Latest on cable TV: lawmakers’ channels, at taxpayers’ expense
WASHINGTON — The consummate public servant, U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi can now be summoned by his constituents 24/7 with the click of a remote.
Cable subscribers in the Democrat’s district and five others can watch up to 30 minutes of on-demand programming from their representatives, just as they view reruns of their favorite shows and movies. A new service called MiCongress offers members of the House the chance to buy their own personal cable channels for an average of $2,000 a month.
A video that will air on Ortiz’s channel illustrates his path to politics with grainy black-and-white photos of him as a chubby tot in his Sunday best and a young soldier standing at attention.
“Never did I even dream that I would be where I am today,” Ortiz says, accompanied by a wind symphony.
The programming is raising some eyebrows, however, because taxpayers are picking up the tab.
Representatives can pay for the service with their tax-financed office budgets as long as the videos are nonpartisan and issue-oriented, the same standard set for congressional mailings.
But Craig Holman, the congressional representative for the watchdog group Public Citizen, said it’s no coincidence that House members have signed up for the service in the midst of their re-election campaigns.
“These are nothing but personal, rhetorical videos portraying the lawmakers as good candidates,” he said. Texan is among first to sign up. “They look just like campaign ads.”
Tax dollars are not supposed to be used for political communication, but the volume of congressional mailings soars each election year. Holman said MiCongress is the most flagrant abuse of the system he has seen — and unlike mailings, the cable channel will not be pulled in the three months before the election.
Rep. James Moran, D-Va., was the first to jump on board. Although constituents have praised his channel, according to spokeswoman Emily Blout, she said she doesn’t think the airtime will boost his numbers in the polls.
Stuart Shapiro, the entrepreneur who started MiCongress, said the $40,000 Ortiz paid for a mass mailing last December makes MiCongress look like a bargain.
The Senate also is considering whether to approve the use of mailing privileges for the service.
Republican Blake Farenthold, who is challenging Ortiz for his seat, is not eligible for public money for MiCongress, but he doesn’t think he’s missing out on anything. In fact, he plans to use his opponent’s subscription to the service as a tool in his own campaign.
“The fact that he’s spending money on something that you can do for free on YouTube is a perfect example of how people who have been in Washington for too long have no respect for money,” Farenthold said.
U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz