Accountability: Who Else Will Go the Way of Congressman Bobby Rush?

No member of Congress is beyond reproach. Every member of Congress should be open scrutiny of their record, and every member should be judged by his or her record. It's critical to an effective democracy.
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No member of Congress is beyond reproach. Every member of Congress should be open scrutiny of their record, and every member should be judged by his or her record. It's critical to an effective democracy.

Last week, Congressman Bobby Rush's record of carrying water for big telecom corporations — at the expense of the communities he represents — came back to haunt him when he lost his bid to become Ranking Member of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. Rep. Rush had been almost certain to get the position until more than 16,000 members opposed his candidacy because of his record of advocating against net neutrality.

Now, Congressman Rush is trying to change the subject. But it won't work — not now, at a time when a politician's statements and voting record are readily available for the public to see and evaluate.

Corporate money has a huge influence over politicians and the policy they make — and it's a major problem for our democracy. Black politicians are no exception. For years, corporate interests have carefully sought support and loyalty from Black leaders with carefully targeted donations to campaign committees and non-profit organizations. The blessing of Black politicians and organizations can — and too often does — give corporate America the cover they need to ruthlessly pursue their interests at the expense of ours.

We started to make government more accountable to the interests of African-Americans. But we will only get so far if we have a double standard for that accountability — one for Black politicians and another for everyone else. The truth is that on certain key issues, there are a significant number of Black leaders and organizations that are beholden to corporate interests, and act against their constituents' interests because of it. To give anyone a pass on those issues, even if they have been great on many others, would only weaken our efforts.

Earlier this week, Rep. Rush attacked with a circular argument that said we are undermining Black interests by challenging him. But he has never addressed the substance of our opposition to his now-failed candidacy to be the Ranking Member of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet: his vocal opposition to net neutrality.

Instead, in his blog post on Monday, Rep. Rush tried to make this story about Bobby Rush vs. James Rucker — ignoring the 16,000 members who questioned Rep. Rush's fitness for a particular job. He repeated his accusation that is "beholden to Silicon Valley" without presenting a shred of evidence, ignoring our campaign against Google for their actions against net neutrality. He continued to dismiss net neutrality as unimportant (without once mentioning it) by saying that he will remain focused on addressing "real issues of concern to African American online users."

But net neutrality is an issue of vital concern to African-Americans. Our ability to compete on a level playing field and have our voices heard on the Internet is unmatched in any other media platform — and it is under dire threat if the big telecom companies get their way and do away with net neutrality. Rep. Rush wants a pass on this issue, but we can't give it to him, even if he has been a strong advocate for Black people on many other issues. With their new majority, Republicans will do everything they can to destroy net neutrality, and we can't afford to give a powerful position with authority over this issue to someone who will help them do it.

It bears repeating why our members were so vocal in their opposition to Rush leading Democrats on the subcommittee which represents the first line of defense against Republican attacks on net neutrality. Rush has repeatedly taken donations from large telecom companies — and his record on net neutrality seems to reflect that relationship. From my blog post last week (to which Rush responded this week):

  • In 2006, Rush voted against Rep. Edward Markey's amendment to the COPE Act, which would have enshrined the FCC's net neutrality principles into law. In stating his opposition, Rush infamously described net neutrality as "a solution in search of a problem." [a statement that he and his staff have repeated]
  • In 2010 the congressman signed a letter circulated by Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) that assailed net neutrality, focusing on the FCC's efforts to reclassify broadband Internet. Green's effort, which netted the support of 74 Democrats, helped discourage the FCC from pursuing more stringent net neutrality rules.

This week's blog post marks the second time Rush has attacked in response to our criticism of his record on net neutrality, while each time failing to address the substance of what we've said. And he continues to tout support for his candidacy for leadership on the Internet subcommittee from a list of Black organizations, while failing to note that the most prominent, if not all of those organizations have also received financial support from big telecom companies.

Rep. Rush did begin to change his tune late last year (under pressure from our campaign against his candidacy) saying that he'd defend the FCC's recent rules to protect net neutrality (which are too weak to do the job properly). If this represents a shift in Rep. Rush's position on net neutrality — after hearing from thousands of people — we welcome it. Based on his record, however, all indications are that Rep. Rush would have used a leadership position on the Internet subcommittee to help undermine net neutrality — and it's a good thing that Democrats on the subcommittee listened to members' voices and chose to elect Anna Eshoo, a strong advocate for net neutrality, as their leader. Eshoo is already demonstrating that she will use her post on the subcommittee to push for strong open Internet protections — shortly after winning the position, she called out the FCC for failing to adequately protect net neutrality.

The fact that our members' voices prevailed in this campaign should serve as a strong warning to any politician or organization, of any race, who is beholden to corporate interests on any issue, and acts against the interests of their constituents on that issue: It won't work to run from your record, to attempt to shield yourself with your political allies and your reputation, or even to hide behind a genuinely strong record on other issues. The people you serve will know what you are doing, they will join together to hold you accountable, and they can win.

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