By Jillian Rayfield
WASHINGTON – Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush (IL) is looking to land the top Dem spot on the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. But he is facing opposition from an unexpected source on the left.
James Rucker is the executive director of Color of Change, a left-leaning group dedicated to “strengthening Black America’s political voice,” and told TPM yesterday that Congressman Rush is the “leading black voice that has argued against Net Neutrality provisions.” If Rush were to become ranking member of the committee, Rucker said, he’d be “in a position where he could to do big harm” as someone who’s “consistently been on the side of industry and not protecting the public interest.”
Rush’s biggest funders are from the telecommunications sector — an interest group firmly opposed to Net Neutrality. As Wired.com reports:
During his congressional career, Rush has received $78,964 from AT&T — his second largest career contributor. He’s also gotten $43,499 from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and $42,000 from Verizon, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Color Of Change, which formed after Hurricane Katrina and has around 800,000 online members, describes its mission statement as “to empower our members–Black Americans and our allies–to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone.” The group has been behind campaigns to get advertisers to pull their support of Glenn Beck, and for CNN to drop Lou Dobbs, among others.
These campaign, Rucker said, were largely internet-based, which is why “there’s clarity” among COC members about the importance of Net Neutrality. “They understand what’s at stake,” he said.
Which is why Rucker wrote a letter to Nancy Pelosi in opposition to Rush’s candidacy, citing his ties to the telecommunications industry and “fierce” opposition to Net Neutrality.
The battle over Net Neutrality focuses, essentially, on a push by the FCC for Congress to pass legislation that would prevent internet providers from blocking access to certain internet content, stop them from collecting fees for access to certain content, and force them to treat all web content providers equally. It’s been a pretty contentious issue in Congress, with many Republicans vehemently opposed to it. The Tea Party even formed a coalition against it back in August, contending that it hurts freedom.
Rush, Rucker said, has consistently “followed a pattern of those tightly aligned with” those in the telecommunications industry regarding Net Neutrality, either because he is “naive,” which “would make it problematic for him to be ranking member on the subcommittee,” or because “for some reason his mind melded with the corporations.”
In response to Rucker’s letter, Rush’s office released a statement dismissing Color Of Change’s claims since it is “Silicon Valley funded”:
As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee since 1995, I have worked tirelessly and effectively on a vast number of issues.
“My position on those issues as well as my sources of contributions are a matter of public record. I will not allow the Silicon Valley funded Color of Change.Org group, which purports to “strengthen Black America’s political voice” through the Internet, to call into question my integrity and honesty to lead the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet as its Ranking Member.
“The notion that this Silicon Valley controlled group should have the only word on what is in the best interests of people of color is foolish. When an organization rents a Silicon Valley glass house, they ought to be careful about throwing stones.”
Rucker told TPM that it’s “laughable” to think Color Of Change is funded by Silicon Valley, adding that though the group is based in the Bay Area in California, “I’m not exactly sure what he’s referring to or what he means.” It “seems to be just a made up idea on the part of the Congressman or one of his staff,” Rucker said.
He also noted that he and CoC headed up a rally outside of Google to protest its Net Neutrality compromise with Verizon. “You don’t go and confront Google if you’re controlled and funded by Silicon Valley,” he said.
Rucker said they haven’t received a response from Nancy Pelosi.
Rush’s office did not immediately respond to TPM’s questions, but did send a copy of a letter of support for Rush’s nomination, including many minorities groups, like the Black College Communications Association (BCCA), the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), the NAACP, and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL).