This week, Willamette Week lambasted Rep. Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) for heading up a scheme to charge voters for—get this—the ability to email their legislators.
The alternative weekly newspaper named Esquivel their “Rogue of the Week” for his involvement in a nonprofit organization called “Democracy Connection,” which advertises “unlimited” email access to lawmakers for the low, low price of $25 a year. For that yearly fee, members can get “FREE access to email any and every one of your elected state and federal leaders.”
That may sound like a real bargain—except that you, me, and everyone we know can already call or email our elected leaders… for absolutely free. No membership fee is ever required, and you can find their contact information easily by going here: http://www.leg.state.or.us/findlegsltr/
Esquivel and his partners are trying to make a quick buck off a fundamental component of our democracy. (Check out what appears to be Democracy Connection’s catchphrase: “Because liberty isn’t free.”)
Even more interesting, Esquivel appears to be trying to hide
his involvement with the group. He told Willamette Week that he isn’t directly involved in the scheme. But when the newspaper caught up with Esquivel’s wife (and legislative assistant), she told a different story:
Jan Esquivel, Democracy Connections’ vice chairman, tells the Rogue Desk that her husband helped come with the idea. She says Sal has kept his name off the business, but he’s the boss. “Ultimately, he’s in charge,” Jan Esquivel says of Sal. “We work for him."
So how did Rep. Esquivel respond to the criticism?
“We are doing a service,” he says. “If that’s unethical, so be it.”
In his effort to make a quick buck off of a basic democratic principle, Esquivel is joined by several other Republican lawmakers around the country.
On Tuesday, Politico reported that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is charging a $15 fee to any constituent who wants to ask him a question during the August congressional recess.
While many members of Congress use the time to talk openly with their constituents and find out what matters to the communities they represent, Ryan is apparently only interested in kibitzing with people who are willing to put up some cash first.
And he’s not the only one.
The House Budget Committee chairman isn’t holding any face-to-face open-to-the-public town hall meetings during the recess, but like several of his colleagues he will speak only for residents willing to open their wallets.
Ryan, who took substantial criticism from his southeast Wisconsin constituents in April after he introduced the Republicans’ budget proposal, isn’t the only member of congress whose August recess town hall-style meetings are strictly pay-per-view.
Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) is scheduled to appear Aug. 23 at a luncheon gathering of the Arizona Republican Lawyers Association. For $35, attendees can question Quayle and enjoy a catered lunch at the Phoenix office of the Snell & Wilmer law firm.
In effect, these Republican congress members have turned a basic facet of democracy into a moneymaking scheme.