Politician Using Twitter To Ignite Misleading Partisan Fight Over Politicians Posting To Twitter

from the politics-as-usual dept

Last month, I posted how cool it was that Republican Congressman John Culberson was really using Twitter to communicate with people. It was a great use of the technology. However, today he's been using Twitter to ignite a totally misguided partisan war, pretending (falsely) that Democrats are trying to prevent him from using Twitter. First, he announced on Twitter that "the Dems are trying to censor Congressmen's ability to use Twitter" claiming that "They want to require prior approval of all posts to any public social media/internet/www site by any member of Congress!!!" Fascinating, and troubling, if true, but it's not actually true.

The actual issue is one that we discussed a few months back. Existing House rules actually forbid members of Congress from posting "official communications" on other sites. This was first noticed by a first-term Congressman who was worried that posting videos on YouTube violated this rule. Other Congressional Reps told him to not worry about it as everyone ignored that rule, and no one would get in trouble for using various social media sites such as YouTube. However, that Congressman pushed forward, and eventually got Congress to act. Of course, rather than fixing the real problem (preventing Reps from posting on social media sites), they simply asked YouTube to allow Reps to post videos in a "non-commercial manner." YouTube agreed, and that was that.

However, the existing rules still stood. Culberson's complaint stems for a letter (pdf) sent by Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano, suggesting that the rules actually be changed to be loosened to deal with this situation and make it easier to post content on various social media sites. Culberson, however, bizarrely claims that this is the Democrats trying to limit what he can say on Twitter. But that's actually not at all what the letter states. The problem isn't this letter, but the existing rules that are already in place. In fact, based on the letter, it would appear that this would make it possible for Congressional Reps to Twitter, so long as their bio made it clear they were Reps.

A bunch of people tried to understand this, and even I asked him to clarify why the problem was with this new letter, as opposed to the existing rules. His response did not address the question at all -- but rather was the identical response he sent to dozens of people who questioned his claims. He notes that based on the letter, each Twitter message must meet "existing content rules and regulations." Indeed, but the problem is that's already true based on those existing content rules and regulations. The problem isn't this new effort, but those existing rules and regulations, which mean that his existing Twitter messages violated the rules.

It's really disappointing to see someone who had embraced the technology use it to try to whip up Twitter users into a frenzy, while misleading them to do so -- and then not using the tools to respond to actual criticisms. The problem here is that the existing rules for Reps is problematic. It's not this new effort to loosen the rules, other than in the fact that the loosening of the rules might not go far enough. That's not, as Culberson claims, an attempt to censor him on Twitter, but simply an attempt to loosen the rules with a focus on YouTube and (most likely) with an ignorance of the fact that Twitter even exists.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Gill Bates, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 4:43pm

    Guten Tag!

    People are still people outside of the office. For crying out loud. let the man have some fun. It's fun to unwind with a little Scotch while Twittering!

    Just use fake names.

     

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    Wayne Allard is an asshole, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 4:51pm

    Times they be a-changin'

    The elders in Congress are afraid of interwebs? They must be visiting the wrong sites.

    I'd say it's better to embrace this ability to collaborate with constituents. To have a website and not be able to solicit ideas from your constituents seems shortsighted. I think John is just trying to get people to recognize the benefits of mass collaboration via the internet, and how the current "rules" actually prevent enabling conversation to occur.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jul 8th, 2008 @ 4:59pm

      Re: Times they be a-changin'

      I'd say it's better to embrace this ability to collaborate with constituents.

      Sure, that's good, but he's now using it to mislead.

      I think John is just trying to get people to recognize the benefits of mass collaboration via the internet, and how the current "rules" actually prevent enabling conversation to occur.

      If that were true, he wouldn't be trying to whip everyone into a frenzy, blaming Democrats and focusing on this letter and ignoring anyone who points out that the problem isn't the Dems (or the Republicans) but the overall existing rules.

       

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    John Duncan Yoyo, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 5:40pm

    What if the twitters appeared on the official congressional pages as well? Would it be acceptable?

     

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    Jake, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 6:06pm

    Grandstanding, picking fights and spouting uninformed rhetoric at anyone who'll listen and lots of people who won't? Sounds like he'll fit right in on the Internet to me.

     

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  •  
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    John Culberson, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 8:03pm

    Proposed rule

    If the Ds rule change were in effect today, before I could post this, YOUR website/blog would have to be preapproved as complying with House rules, my post would require a disclaimer that it was "produced by a House office for official purposes," and the CONTENT of my post would have to preapproved by the House Franking Committee as complying with "existing content rules and regulations."

    This is a violation of YOUR First Amendment rights and mine, and is an outrageous attempt by House leadership to stifle and control you and me. If Rs were in charge I would be just as outraged - forget the party label - I do not want the federal gov't/House of Representatives certifying your website or the content of my posts. I am writing this post personally, in my official capacity, so it would fall precisely under their new rule and you and I would both be in violation unless we subjected ourselves and our words to their prior approval/editing.

    I am always the first to admit I am wrong when I can be shown I am in error. I am an attorney and I know what the letter says and what they mean with it. The people implementing this new rule may be benevolent and have noble purposes, but that is irrelevant. This violates the First Amendment.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jul 8th, 2008 @ 9:30pm

      Re: Proposed rule

      If the Ds rule change were in effect today, before I could post this, YOUR website/blog would have to be preapproved as complying with House rules, my post would require a disclaimer that it was "produced by a House office for official purposes," and the CONTENT of my post would have to preapproved by the House Franking Committee as complying with "existing content rules and regulations."

      Rep. Culberson, you are still missing the point. That's ALREADY true under EXISTING rules. I can't see why this is so confusing.

      This is a violation of YOUR First Amendment rights and mine

      Indeed. But, again, this is due to EXISTING rules, not the proposed rule change.

      and is an outrageous attempt by House leadership to stifle and control you and me.

      How many times does it need to be repeated, that this is not a new attempt by the House to stifle control. This is existing rules that they're already looking at weakening.

      If Rs were in charge I would be just as outraged - forget the party label - I do not want the federal gov't/House of Representatives certifying your website or the content of my posts.

      Agreed. We definitely agree on that, but the problem is your blaming the folks trying to adjust the rules, rather than those who wrote the original rules.

      I am writing this post personally, in my official capacity, so it would fall precisely under their new rule and you and I would both be in violation unless we subjected ourselves and our words to their prior approval/editing.

      No, you are already guilty under existing rules.

      I am always the first to admit I am wrong when I can be shown I am in error. I am an attorney and I know what the letter says and what they mean with it. The people implementing this new rule may be benevolent and have noble purposes, but that is irrelevant. This violates the First Amendment.

      And yet, you still don't explain why the problem isn't the existing rules.

      I'm impressed with your use of Twitter, but we're clearly talking at cross purposes here.

       

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      Davi Ottenheimer, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 10:39am

      Re: Proposed rule

      "I am an attorney..."

      I have seen this exact comment posted word-for-word on several sites.

      Seems more like an automated spam-bot or zombie than real person.

      How do we know "John Culberson" comments are real and not just partisan spam generated from some lazy cron job? Or more to the point, can you actually respond and comment to the text of the article above?

       

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    Jeff Crites, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 8:13pm

    Social Media kurfuffle on Cap Hill

    I think one of the main issues with the letter in question is that it discusses an "approved" list of social media tools and sites that can be used. Who will decide what can be used? Sure, partisan politics is involved. Nothing new there. But understand that a seemingly innocuous letter can have very unfriendly and subtle command and control intent. Culberson is concerned he'll have to run blog posts, Qik videos and Tweets by a censor committee. The way Congress works, that's a reasonable concern.

    I'd rather this not be a Dem vs GOP battle, especially with fans of Social Media. The great thing about this is that it's shining the spotlight on Social Media/Web 2.0, and might help speed up education, adoption, transparency, and openness on Cap Hill. Like or dislike Culberson, at least be thankful someone on the Hill is an advocate for Social Media and a change in business (hidden) as usual on the Hill.

     

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    shelbinator, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 8:30pm

    why don't I trust them?

    Yeah, I asked Culberson about it as well, and got the boilerplate response. I think I've read enough political docs to realize he was blowing the Capuano memo waaaaaaay out of proportion. That's a shame, b/c I was going to write nicely about him on a local Dem blog about how he was outshining some of us on the web.

     

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    Jeff Crites, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 8:39pm

    why don't you trust them

    For some balance ... check out the Mashable post on this: http://tinyurl.com/5tb27c

    Also, Dems in the Senate are apparently working even harder to control use of social media than House colleagues: http://tinyurl.com/6nxm3c

     

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    Concern4Civility, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 9:44pm

    Thx for Clarification

    Thank you for clarifying the letter. Culberson is not a bad fellow, just limited in the scope of his experience and understanding. He sees the world through thick partisan filters. Judging from the time he spends twitting & videoing & raising campaign funds,& meeting with oil companies/driller/producers that"I proudly represent" one can see that he has little time to read and comprehend legislation & regulatory issues. Once he does, perhaps he will back down and apologize.

     

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      Walter Neary, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 10:20pm

      Re: Thx for Clarification

      This comment is interesting to me, because as a local elected official I got in trouble for blogging *during* a meeting. And indeed, it was a big mistake. But I'm intrigued by the choice of words "judging from the time he spend twitting...one can see that he has little time to read and comprehend legislation" Are you saying he should spend less time communicating and more time studying issues? And if so, if you are an elected official, how do you decide how much time to spend communicating? I'm not arguing one should spend time studying issues, just trying to figure it out for myself ...

       

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        Nasch, Jul 9th, 2008 @ 7:44am

        Re: Re: Thx for Clarification

        I would say if you aren't spending enough time to understand every issue and piece of legislation you vote on, you're doing it wrong. And if you're not voting on all of the important issues, you're doing it wrong. And if there are too many bills for members to understand them all before voting, then... well, then there are too many bills. I've heard it suggested that members should have to sign a document under oath (with penalty of perjury) that they have personally read and understand a bill before they're allowed to vote on it. Unfortunately Congress would have to pass such a law or rule, and they won't because they want the lobbyists and staffers to continue doing the legislation so they can focus on campaigning.

         

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    Kfir Pravda, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 10:04pm

    Twitter or not, politicians are still politicians.

    in your post you are saying: It's really disappointing to see someone who had embraced the technology use it to try to whip up Twitter users into a frenzy, while misleading them to do so -- and then not using the tools to respond to actual criticisms.

    Well, people are still people, politicians are still politicians. The fact that x is using twitter doesn't change the fact that he is a politician, and some of them are using disinformation as a propaganda tool. It happened before twitter, and will happen in the future.

     

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    Kfir Pravda, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 10:18pm

    Twitter or not, politicians are still politicians.

    in your post you are saying: It's really disappointing to see someone who had embraced the technology use it to try to whip up Twitter users into a frenzy, while misleading them to do so -- and then not using the tools to respond to actual criticisms.

    Well, people are still people, politicians are still politicians. The fact that x is using twitter doesn't change the fact that he is a politician, and some of them are using disinformation as a propaganda tool. It happened before twitter, and will happen in the future.

     

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      identicon
      Abdul, Jul 9th, 2008 @ 9:21am

      Re: Twitter or not, politicians are still politicians.

      I totally agree with you. It seems we are wrongly equating using current technologies to mean a change in character. It's possible that we can get the most tech-savvy president and yet still turns out to be the 'typical politicians. Tech does not change politicians, it only offers them more avenues to display their poly-tricks: Twittering the Presidency(http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=466&doc_id=157288&F_src=fl ftwo)

       

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  •  
    identicon
    John Culberson, Jul 8th, 2008 @ 10:32pm

    Focus on the First Amendment

    I understand and agree with your point that existing House rules are designed to control where and what I communicate to large audiences, but the concern you are missing is that this rule change is designed to expand the control of these current House rules to all forms of social media on the www.

    In addition, your website would be subject to certification/approval or disapproval by the House Franking Committee. You would have to modify your website to comply with their rules if you wanted members of Congress to post on it.

    If they succeed with this rule, it will stifle virtually all use of social media by members of Congress because no one can or would submit blog posts/Twitters etc to franking for approval.

    Clearly you agree my analysis of the effect of their proposed rule change is accurate.

    They are NOT planning on weakening these existing rules. They are working to EXPAND the rules to regulate the www.

    I am astonished that this does not concern you. No matter who is in charge we need bright sunshine in every corner of the Congress if we are ever going to straighten out the terrible way that the public's business is conducted. The root of all the problems plaguing Washington is secrecy and darkness - we should all be on the same page demanding that these rules be waived for any and all use of social media/ the www by Congressmen and Presidents and the public.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jul 8th, 2008 @ 10:52pm

      Re: Focus on the First Amendment

      I understand and agree with your point that existing House rules are designed to control where and what I communicate to large audiences, but the concern you are missing is that this rule change is designed to expand the control of these current House rules to all forms of social media on the www.

      Rep Culberson, we're still talking at cross purposes here. The *existing* rules *already* cover social media on the web. That's what came out of the situation a few months back with Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

      This is not an expansion of those rules, but rather a (weak) attempt to deal with the concerns that McCarthy brought up.

      In addition, your website would be subject to certification/approval or disapproval by the House Franking Committee. You would have to modify your website to comply with their rules if you wanted members of Congress to post on it.

      As it stands now, according to existing house rules, there's NOTHING I could do to make it allowable for members of Congress to post. Your post here violates existing house rules, if taken literally.

      Yes, this new rule would create a certification process, but that's a step up from banning posting altogether.

      If they succeed with this rule, it will stifle virtually all use of social media by members of Congress because no one can or would submit blog posts/Twitters etc to franking for approval.

      Again, that's ALREADY not allowed by the existing House rules. Your use of Twitter, just like McCarthy's use of YouTube already violate those rules. This effort attempts to change that so that there are ways that you could use Twitter and McCarthy can use YouTube.

      They *could* and *should* go further, but the problem is still the existing rules, not this change.

      Clearly you agree my analysis of the effect of their proposed rule change is accurate.

      No. Your analysis is of the *existing* rules -- which we agree are problematic. The problem seems to be that you are assigning the *existing* rules to this new effort.

      They are NOT planning on weakening these existing rules. They are working to EXPAND the rules to regulate the www.


      Again, from what McCarthy said before, the existing rules ALREADY regulated the web.

      I am astonished that this does not concern you

      Rep. Culberson, frankly, this statement makes no sense. It *would* concern me if this were an extension of the rules -- but as I am trying to make clear, it appears that the problem is the EXISTING rules, not this new effort.

      No matter who is in charge we need bright sunshine in every corner of the Congress if we are ever going to straighten out the terrible way that the public's business is conducted.

      Indeed -- that's the same thing I've said over and over and over again. In fact, I've been talking about exactly that with other aspects of Congress, such as ACTA: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080603/1247531301.shtml

      The root of all the problems plaguing Washington is secrecy and darkness - we should all be on the same page demanding that these rules be waived for any and all use of social media/ the www by Congressmen and Presidents and the public.

      Indeed. And I am ALL for getting rid of these rules -- but we should be clear that the problem is the existing rules that have been around for a while -- not the new rules being proposed here.

       

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jul 9th, 2008 @ 6:13am

    Yay

    It is good to see John Culberson come out and visit us tech-dirtians.
    After reading the analysis and from my understanding of the current rules, John, you indeed are not technically allowed to be posting right here right now.
    I am very glad that you are though. I am also glad that you use Twitter. It is good to see representatives take an interest in what the constituents want (since it feels like you (you being general, not you specific) only do around election time).

    Have you tried just politely suggesting that you guys should go further, and skip even the approval process? It does seem like right now, an approval process is a step up from the blanket "No" (whether ignored or not). However, I perfectly agree that it does seem to be stepping on all of our First Amendment rights to force you even through an approval process. But again, it seems better than simply denying you the ability.
    Please try to work this out with them. Do what it seems you guys do best and argue. Please do not try to make this out to be a party based argument. Just suggest an even more weakened form of the current rules. If possible, take it to extreme and suggest that there be absolutely no rules limiting how you can communicate. At least that way it would be possible to compromise somewhere in the middle, and have even more of the restrictions removed than they are suggesting.
    The end goal of no restrictions is the best. But if they won't assist with removing all, at least help them to remove some. Please.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    deichmans, Jul 9th, 2008 @ 6:58am

    Read the Capuano letter again

    Mike,

    I disagree with your interpretation of Rep. Capuano's letter. Rather than "suggesting that the rules actually be changed to be loosened to deal with this situation and make it easier to post content on various social media sites" (your words), the letter explicitly states that Members should only be allowed to post only on "qualifying external websites".

    But maybe you're right. Maybe Rep. Capuano (who is also the Chairman of Speaker Pelosi's Task Force on Ethics Enforcement, who has said the Internet is a "necessary evil") will not abuse his role as Chairman of the Franking Committee to decide WHICH websites satisfy the subjective criteria of his committee. And he won't use the Office of Web Assistance as an electronic Gestapo in the House to restrict Member communications with their constituents.

     

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      Nasch, Jul 9th, 2008 @ 7:50am

      Re: Read the Capuano letter again

      Rather than "suggesting that the rules actually be changed to be loosened to deal with this situation and make it easier to post content on various social media sites" (your words), the letter explicitly states that Members should only be allowed to post only on "qualifying external websites".

      Isn't that a loosening of the rules if the existing rule is "you can't post any content ever"? I'm not saying the new rule would be good, but it's possible that it would be less bad.

       

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      Mike (profile), Jul 9th, 2008 @ 9:50am

      Re: Read the Capuano letter again

      But maybe you're right. Maybe Rep. Capuano (who is also the Chairman of Speaker Pelosi's Task Force on Ethics Enforcement, who has said the Internet is a "necessary evil") will not abuse his role as Chairman of the Franking Committee to decide WHICH websites satisfy the subjective criteria of his committee. And he won't use the Office of Web Assistance as an electronic Gestapo in the House to restrict Member communications with their constituents.

      I'm not sure how many times this needs to be repeated: but under CURRENT HOUSE RULES there are NO sites that meet the criteria. This is not about him trying to get control over what sites can be used, it's about trying to make sure at least some can be used.

      The current rules are WORSE. The entire point of Capuano's letter is to make it so that SOME sites can be used. It does not go far enough, but it's a myth that this is an attempt to stifle speech.

       

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    identicon
    zenpundit, Jul 9th, 2008 @ 8:11am

    Hi Mike,

    I have to disagree as well.

    Old rules that are not enforced are effectively freedom to post as you wish without restraint. Newer, modestly less restrictive rules that are going to be actively enforced represent a net increase in restraint. Correct ?

    Secondly, there is the issue of the GOP not trusting the Dem majority to apply said restrictions in an impartial or consistent manner. If the shoe was on the other foot and Tom DeLay was trying to put these same rules in to effect I doubt that many Democratic members of Congress would feel sanguine.

    Thirdly, how do such restrictions serve the public interest rather than the political interests of the Congressional leadership? On the merits, setting up an elaborate gatekeeping system has no purpose except to limit and censor communication.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jul 9th, 2008 @ 9:52am

      Re:

      Old rules that are not enforced are effectively freedom to post as you wish without restraint. Newer, modestly less restrictive rules that are going to be actively enforced represent a net increase in restraint. Correct ?

      The problem is still the old rules. Capuano is clearly not trying to restrict speech here. He's trying to loosen the old rules. Yes, he absolutely should go further, but blaming him for trying to change the old rules to make them better is a mistake.

      Secondly, there is the issue of the GOP not trusting the Dem majority to apply said restrictions in an impartial or consistent manner. If the shoe was on the other foot and Tom DeLay was trying to put these same rules in to effect I doubt that many Democratic members of Congress would feel sanguine.

      Um. The rules under Tom DeLay were the CURRENT rules where NO SITES could be used. And the Dems didn't do a thing.

      Thirdly, how do such restrictions serve the public interest rather than the political interests of the Congressional leadership? On the merits, setting up an elaborate gatekeeping system has no purpose except to limit and censor communication.

      Ugh. Again, I agree that the CURRENT RULES are terrible and the NEW RULES don't go far enough, but it is not the new rules that are designed to stifle speech, it's the OLD RULES.

       

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    identicon
    Kirk Kittell, Jul 9th, 2008 @ 11:30am

    copy-paste

    Hey Mike. I'm not sure that you're having a 'real' conversation with Rep. Culberson here, though I appreciate that you're taking the time to respond to his posts. He appears to be copy-pasting the same comment on a number of sites, i.e., you're responding to a flier posted on a wall, not a person.

    I think you're right: I read the letter to be an improvement on the existing set of rules. I understand zenpundit's point about the increase in net restriction, but ignoring little-used rules seems like a see no evil, hear no evil way to go. If any progress is going to be made here, the regulations need to be improved -- ignoring them is not sufficient, only eradicating them officially or improving them is going to make a difference.

    I don't agree with Rep. Culberson's approach to this (partisan arm-waving), but I'm glad that he's being the spearhead for something new. It's an improvement in communication and I'm glad to see it. In this regard, he's doing better than the folks I voted for.

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 9:00am

    Not cool

    The whole fact that hes copy-pasting like that shows that he doesn't get it as much as he is portraying.
    Naturally, if you have one argument used against a ton of people, and all those people are pointing out the flaws in your argument, you may want to review your argument.
    Discussion is good.
    But he is not discussing, just claiming "I'm right and you obviously must be wrong or not understand since you don't agree".
    Sad really.

     

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    james, Dec 10th, 2008 @ 7:58am

    culberson

    nice to see culberson is out there reading blogs,etc. it'ld be nicer if he did his job and read the bills he was voting on! focus, john, focus...

     

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  •  
    identicon
    sryWindows 7 Activation Key, Jun 19th, 2011 @ 6:16pm

    This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free.

    How do we know "John Culberson" comments are real and not just partisan spam generated from some lazy cron job? Or more to the point, can you actually

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    sryWindows 7 Activation Key, Jun 19th, 2011 @ 6:18pm

    This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free.

    How do we know "John Culberson" comments are real and not just partisan spam generated from some lazy cron job? Or more to the point, can you actually

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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