Our Representatives, on the Net but Not Exactly Live Wires


Published in the Sunday New York Times on September 13, 1998


When you come right down to it, Congressmen are interested in the Internet for three reasons: the opportunity to regulate it, the opportunity to tax it, and most importantly the opportunity to have their very own personal Web sites. Eleven of New Jersey’s 13 members of the House of Representatives have already immortalized themselves in Java code. What do they want you to know? To find out, fire up your favorite Web browser (try not to violate any antitrust laws while you’re at it) and check out these postings on their websites. You can link to them from the House of Representatives Web site (http://www.house.gov).


Yes, Congress has them too. Representatives are now using the Internet to lure New Jersey’s youth to our nation’s capital. Representative Bob Franks has posted on his site the duties and qualifications of an intern. Duties include “other miscellaneous tasks, as needed.” Qualifications include “ability to follow instructions.”


When I’m looking for Cool Sites to visit on the web, the first person I turn to for guidance is a Congressman. Representative Bob Manendez’s list of Cool Sites includes the ultra-chic N.J. Job Bank Web site. Representative Mike Pappas’ Interesting Links section points to the site for the Amtrak Train Schedule.


Personal Explanations are the Congressional equivalent of a note from your mother explaining why you missed school, and they can be entered into the official record. Representative Steve Rothman has chosen to share his mea culpas with the entire planet. For example, Representative Rothman confessed that on June 3, 1998, he missed a roll call vote because, “I was detained in New Jersey attending my son’s band concert.” Personally, I think he was playing hooky.


Several congressmen have employed this wildly creative and woefully underused listing technique. Check out Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen’s “Top 10 Things to Do and See” in Washington, D.C. His No. 1 choice: visit Rodney Frelinghuysen! Imagine the excitement in your kids’ eyes when you tell them they’ll have to skip the National Air and Space Museum because they’re going to shake hands with a guy named Rodney Frelinghuysen.


Did you know that you can purchase a flag from your Representative and have it flown over the Capitol for a day to commemorate a person or event? You can, but it’ll cost you. You might think that all Representatives would charge the same price for a flag. But that would be price collusion, which we all know is illegal. Instead, Representative Steve Rothman charges $22.48 for a 5 x 8 foot cotton flag, while Representative Frank LoBiondo charges $25.27. Is LoBiondo engaging in price gouging or is Rothman engaging in predatory pricing? As far as the actual payment for your flag, Representative LoBoindo asks that you make your check payable to the Frank LoBoindo Office Supply Account. Look for this type of account to be the main conduit for soft money if new Campaign Finance Reform legislation is enacted.


Several representatives have chosen to clog the Internet with photographs of—hard as it is to believe¾themselves! Representative Bill Pascrell has posted photos of himself and his family in low-resolution GIF format, which gives his site the seedy look of Web sites that are generally blocked by Net Nanny. Other Representatives use high-resolution JPEG files, so you can better see your tax dollars being digitized into self-aggrandizement.


Lest you think the only activity that Representatives engage in is telling you what you can’t do, check out Representative Mike Pappas’ Web page for the scoop on his really neat men’s singing quartet, the Capitol Four. What better way to interest Generation X in a career in government than posting photos and streaming audio of these hep cats singing The Star Spangled Banner? If the goal was to make Clinton playing the saxophone seem cool—mission accomplished.