While the White House and the FCC sold us out on net neutrality, yesterday produced an important victory in the fight for an open internet. Congressman Bobby Rush, who should have been a shoe-in for a subcommittee position with authority over the internet, was denied the position after nearly 16,000 ColorOfChange members opposed his candidacy. Internet champion Anna Eshoo was selected by her peers instead.
Eshoo's victory comes on the heels of a nearly two-month campaign by ColorOfChange.org. More than 16,000 ColorOfChange members signed a petition to Congresswoman Pelosi asking Democratic leaders to oppose Rush's candidacy for the position, and more than 800 placed phone calls to Pelosi's office. Another 450 called Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman in the last few critical days of the campaign.
Make no mistake -- without the push on the part of everyday people to oppose his candidacy, Rush would easily have been selected to lead Democrats on the telecom panel. Votes for committee leadership are typically ceremonial displays; tradition dictates that the member with the greatest seniority will win the position unless that member holds another committee leadership position elsewhere. And Rush had greater seniority than his rival for the position, Rep. Anna Eshoo.
Moreover, many observers questioned whether Democratic leaders would be willing to risk tensions with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) by defying the seniority system in order to deny a prominent black Congressman his first leadership choice. This sense was strengthened after Rush won the explicit support of both CBC leadership and some in the civil rights establishment.
In the end, though, the voices of everyday people prevailed. We opposed Rush's candidacy because:
- 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."
- 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.
Rush's close relationships with the telecommunications industry were another cause for concern. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, AT&T is Rush's second-largest single contributor over his career. Also among his top 10 lifetime contributors are the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (#8) and Verizon (#10). In addition, SBC (later purchased by AT&T) made a 3-year, $1 million grant to a Chicago community center bearing Rush's name in 2001.
At the end of the day, ColorOfChange members succeeded in holding Rush accountable for his record on net neutrality. In doing so, they made a powerful statement: no matter who you are, you can be held accountable. That's why this isn't just a big win for net neutrality advocates -- it's a big win for anyone who believes that government should be responsive to and accountable to its citizens' interests above corporate interests.