The saying goes that “politics makes strange bedfellows,” and this axiom is especially appropriate to describe the new coalition that has formed to fight “telecom amnesty” legislation. So appropriate, in fact, that the group has adopted the phrase into its title.
Several left-of-center bloggers, Ron Paul activists, and the ACLU joined forces recently to wage a multi-phase offense against so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats, several of whom are accused of acquiescing to the Bush Administration’s demands for telecom immunity. At the center of this war lies a new FISA bill reportedly beingdrafted by Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer — a bill that news reports say will include retroactive immunity to telecom companies that have participated in illegal wiretapping.
Rick Williams is a trial lawyer and was at the forefront of the online activism that formed around presidential candidate Ron Paul; he was part of the driving force behind the multi-million dollar campaign fundraisers that helped propel Paul into the national spotlight. He and his business partner, Trevor Lyman (who engineered the “money bomb” that raised $6 million for the presidential candidate in a 24-hour period), launched Break the Matrix, a social networking site aimed at harnessing the momentum of the massive online Paul movement. In a phone interview yesterday I asked Williams how this coalition formed.
“One of our members at Break the Matrix works in the media in DC,” he told me. “He was in touch with the leftist bloggers and he came to us saying that we should meet. So we started having some conference calls with the leftist blogs and we came up with the idea to form this group. The Ron Paul community has very strong shared values on constitutional rights — the left and Break the Matrix are on the same page when it comes to these civil liberties issues.”
Spearheading this group is Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald, a former civil rights lawyer who writes frequently about what he calls “telecom amnesty.” Over the past six months he has already worked feverishly with other bloggers to run advertising campaigns against Blue Dog Democrats that supported the new FISA legislation proposed by the Bush Administration.
“Eventually the ACLU started getting involved as well,” Williams said. “They were participating in our conference calls because I think they saw the potential for a leftist group teaming up with the limited-government right. Glenn has been comparing us to an ideologically-diverse coalition that has formed in Britain to fight government expansion over there.”
Liz Rose, a spokesperson for the ACLU, told me today that it’s not uncommon for the special interest group to work with people from both the right and left on civil liberties issues. “In this case, a vote is coming up in Congress on this bad FISA bill and we need to convince the Democratic leadership not to go forward with what we think is an unconstitutional bill,” she said. “So this Strange Bedfellows presented itself as a great opportunity to get involved with the right and left who are against the bill. And eventually we’d collaborate on other civil liberties concerns.”
But as for what role the ACLU will play in Strange Bedfellows, Rose said this wasn’t yet clear. “It’s still the beginning,” she said. “The ACLU has been fighting the gutting of FISA nonstop since last July. I think honestly we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’re up on the Hill lobbying. We offer talking points and reach out to our affiliates. With Strange Bedfellows, I think we’re getting a kind of new energy and renewed excitement online. I mean, we’ve been reaching out to bloggers for an entire year, but bringing in these Ron Paul supporters is a big deal.”
Matt Stoller, one of the founders of the popular Open Left blog, has been a part of Strange Bedfellows since its creation. In a phone interview today he told me that the ACLU’s resources will be a vital asset to the group’s political influence. “They do a lot of lobbying and so that’s pretty important,” he said. “Fighting telecom amnesty has been a major campaign of theirs. They sometimes do organizing work and they already have a base of supporters. They also have a good bit of credibility, and so I think they’re going to bring a lot of credibility to our group.”
Stoller pointed out that leftist bloggers and Ron Paul supporters have already been fighting telecom amnesty for months, so it naturally made sense for the them to join forces.
So now that the coalition has formed, how does it plan to fight the revised FISA bill? In a blog post today, Greenwald indicated that the group’s campaign will be divided in two phases. “Phase I [will] entail an immediate ad campaign aimed at three key Democratic enablers of this bill — Hoyer, Chris Carney, and Blue Dog Rep. John Barrow of Georgia,” he wrote. “The reasons for targeting Hoyer are self-evident and were set forth yesterday, and the campaign against Carney — who has long been one of the Blue Dogs spearheading the effort behind this bill — is already underway and will continue.”
Phase II, Greenwald says, “will involve a massive money bomb.” This large fundraiser will be utilized in a number of broader civil liberty campaigns to “oppose and punish those vulnerable members of Congress who continue to support the evisceration of our constitutional framework and core civil liberties, while supporting candidates and office-holders who meaningfully oppose that assault.” As for what these campaigns will be, the “dates and other details for that will be announced shortly.”
And lest one snicker at this ambitious proposal, consider the fact that the group has managed to raise $90,000 in just the first 24 hours of its campaign. This number indicates there is a growing unrest with civil liberties activists.
Whether this coalition will be able to harness that unrest remains to be seen. Williams, for his part, is optimistic.
“We think that having the grass roots people from the left and grassroots people from the right come together will be a very powerful tool,” he said. “These issues are not ones that are going to go away.”