Lat­est on cable TV: law­mak­ers’ chan­nels, at tax­pay­ers’ ex­pense

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Ju­lia Love

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

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