Group urging FISA 'no' vote is largest on Obama's social site
Update: Group organizers send open letter requesting Obama help against telco immunity
Barack Obama supporters urging the Illinois senator to vote against a pending surveillance law have formed the largest group on the Democratic presidential candidate's social networking Web site, my.barackobama.com.
The group, "Senator Obama - Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity - Get FISA Right," had more than 14,500 members as of Thursday morning. The group formed last Wednesday, June 25, making it perhaps the fastest growing user-generated group on the page. Sometime around 8 p.m. Wednesday, the group became No. 1 in overall membership, surpassing "Action Wire," the campaign-created group that is designed to fight smears and rumors hurled at Obama.
The "Get FISA Right" group formed in response to Obama's indication that he would support an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that is to be voted on in the Senate next week. Critics say the bill would essentially legalize the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program, which President Bush authorized, while eliminating pending civil lawsuits aimed at the telecommunications companies that allegedly handed over reams of private customer data to the government.
The group's founder, blogger Mike Stark, tells RAW STORY he is talking to others who have been active on FISA to determine how best to use the group to pressure Obama and other senators who seem likely to vote for the bill, which is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday. The group nearly doubled in size over the last two days as it started to receive more attention from progressive bloggers and even garnered a few mentions in more traditional news outlets.
On Thursday, the group released an open letter to Obama asking that the campaign share its phone banking tools so group members can call voters and urge them to pressure their senators to vote against immunity. The letter also asks Obama to speak out on the Senate floor when the bill is voted on next week. (The full letter is reproduced below.)
"Senator Obama, the my.BarackObama.com caption reads, 'I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington… I'm asking you to believe in yours,'" the letter says. "We're ready to put these words into practice."
While the surveillance bill catalyzed the group's explosive growth, Stark says FISA is not the only issue they will be concerned with. One way or another, that fight will likely be over within a week, anyway.
"Once the FISA issue is dead, all I have to do is rename the group and I've still got 15,000 people," Stark said in a phone interview Thursday.
The Obama campaign did not respond to multiple requests from RAW STORY seeking comment on the group. An Obama adviser did explain the senator's shifting position to the New York Times.
Greg Craig, a Washington lawyer who advises the Obama campaign, said Tuesday in an interview that Mr. Obama had decided to support the compromise FISA legislation only after concluding it was the best deal possible.
“This was a deliberative process, and not something that was shooting from the hip,” Mr. Craig said. “Obviously, there was an element of what’s possible here. But he concluded that with FISA expiring, that it was better to get a compromise than letting the law expire.”
That excuse, though, relied on an incorrect interpretation of what's happening, as Timothy B. Lee, a blogger for the libertarian Cato Institute, explains:
I feel like a broken record, but FISA, which was enacted in 1978 and updated in 2001, doesn’t expire. It will remain the law of the land indefinitely, whether or not Congress passes new legislation this month. The Protect America Act, which was passed last August, has already expired — back in March. As I pointed out at the time, the expiration of the PAA simply returned us to the permissive surveillance regime that Congress enacted with the Patriot Act in 2001. That regime isn’t perfect, to be sure, but it leaves our intelligence community with plenty of tools to spy on terrorists.
What Mr. Craig is most likely referring to is the fact that the first surveillance “authorizations” under the PAA will begin expiring in August. These “authorizations” are good for a year, so any authorizations approved in August 2007 will expire in August 2008. But that simply means that intelligence officials will have to apply for a FISA order under the still fairly permissive Patriot Act rules. Those rules include a lower legal threshold than exists under ordinary criminal wiretaps, and an “emergency” provision allowing wiretapping to begin immediately and authorization to be sought after the fact. The net result will be a modest increase in the NSA’s paperwork burden, but there’s no reason to think any reasonable surveillance activities will cease. (Some indiscriminate vacuum-cleaner surveillance may have to be stopped, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing)
Stark said he's thinking of calling the group "Barack's Better Angles" and that they would focus on keeping the Democratic candidate committed to the progressive agenda he pushed during the primary, rather than moving to the right as some have seen him doing.
"Progressives win every issue once people understand what the issues are," Stark said. "We really do want the change he's promised."
The "Get FISA Right" group released this letter it sent to Obama Thursday:
Dear Senator Obama,
On October 24, 2007, your campaign spokesman said, "To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."
On June 20, 2008 you said, of retroactive immunity, "I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses."
As the largest grass-roots group on your campaign website, my.BarackObama.com, and in the spirit of your open/responsive government campaign pledges, we wish to share our ideas for how we may work together to further the goal of eliminating retroactive immunity from the FISA legislation scheduled for debate in the Senate next week. Although this is only one of the problems we see with legislation allows the government to wiretap the communications of its citizenry without a warrant, it's the area we think we can help you the most.
First, Senator Obama, we ask that you make the same tools that we used to call undecided voters in Iowa and New Hampshire available for us to call our fellow citizens in West Virginia, Nebraska, Delaware, Florida and other states that have Senators committed to voting against the amendment that would strip telecom immunity. You have the tools and we have the people power. Together, we are confident we can bring Change; we can make the government listen to the people instead of the telecom lobbyists.
Second, Senator Obama, we ask that you attend the Senate debate and schedule floor time to speak about the violence done to the rule of law when Congress retroactively immunizes the illegal conduct of a special interest. We know you understand that justice should not be sold to the highest special interest bidder; we also know that you can persuade other Senators that are not so clear on the issue. Of course, if you do this, our committed members will surely capture the video of your inspiring oratory, load it to YouTube and spread your words to our friends and family far and wide. We trust in your ability to bring a new way of doing business to Washington and look forward to helping you make that Change a reality.
Senator Obama, the my.BarackObama.com caption reads, "I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington… I'm asking you to believe in yours." We're ready to put these words into practice.
The 15,000+ (and rapidly growing) members of
"Senator Obama – Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity – Get FISA Right"