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Feds Use Internet for Lobbying

On the Web
The Chamber of Commerce's 'ChamberCast' Web site

By Jonathan D. Salant
Associated Press Writer
Monday, May 18, 1998; 10:32 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a glimpse into the future of lobbying, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to build opposition to a global-warming treaty by connecting foreign policy veterans with the public on the computer Internet.

About 200 people gathered at the business lobby's offices today to hear featured speakers, including former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Chamber officials hoped that thousands more watched the conference over the Internet, where it aired live after a technical glitch that delayed the start of the broadcast.

Visitors to the chamber's special web site could see and hear the speeches as they were being delivered at the chamber's wood-paneled meeting room. They also could read the policy papers being presented at the conference or watch a video about the treaty.

``This is our new means of communicating,'' said Bill Kovacs, the chamber's vice president for environment and energy policy. ``We can reach the world almost instantaneously.''

The Internet is quickly becoming a favored venue for grass-roots lobbying campaigns, with interest groups helping their supporters send letters to lawmakers with just a few clicks of their computer mouse. The American Hospital Association and USA Engage, a business group opposed to economic sanctions on foreign countries, are two examples.

The chamber is going further in its effort to inform people about opposition to the global-warming treaty, which it sees threatening America's security and sovereignty.

The treaty, endorsed by the Clinton administration, would limit each nation's emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases produced by industrial activities. Many scientists believe those gases are increasing Earth's temperature by trapping heat from the sun.

A Senate ratification vote giving official U.S. acceptance to the treaty is pending.

Speakers remained after their presentation today to answer e-mail sent in during the conference. After the conference is broadcast today, the video will be saved and catalogued. Video clips, transcripts and supporting documents then will be available at the group's Internet site.

``This is an example of the future,'' said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, which recently examined lobbying and the Internet.

``You cannot only put written materials on and make it easy for people to e-mail their members of Congress, but they also will have moving images from conferences that can be called up on a later date.''

Chamber spokesman Frank Coleman said Internet broadcasts will replace the organization's town hall meetings, where speeches and interviews are broadcast via satellite to conference rooms and other gathering spots.

``That required people to get up from their houses or their desks to go someplace,'' Coleman said. ``Now anyone who has a computer, a modem and an Internet service can log into these conferences. It becomes an easier tool for getting the message out.''

The chamber also plans to send notices to members of Internet discussion groups, inviting them to visit its global-warming Web site.

For the future, the chamber plans to use the Internet to set up an electronic lobbying network to instantly inform members of key votes. For example, it could send out an alert that Congress was scheduled to take up an issue that afternoon and urge its members to instantly call or e-mail their federal lawmakers.

``The linkage between a direct lobbying effort and the Internet is going to improve the capacity of these large organizations to pressure individual members of Congress to do what they want them to do,'' Thurber said.

``With these sites, they can just click an icon, and they have programs that will automatically send a letter to the right members of Congress.''

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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