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Grass-Roots Pressure on Congress

March 27, 1993

As a congressional aide for just shy of 25 years, I found deeply depressing Paul Houston's article on the "grass-roots" pressuring of Congress ("Phone Frenzy in the Capitol," March 16). It has gotten out of hand, a good idea run amok.

The staggering growth of congressional staff, which has been criticized from all quarters, is overwhelmingly a response to generated "grass-roots" mail campaigns. Letters, postcards, Mailgrams and faxes come in by the millions, and thousands are employed processing these mostly useless communications. The original idea was sound: People who knew something about which they were writing could share their experiences and insights with their legislators. Letters from teachers, farmers, bankers, merchants, accountants, doctors, et al., enhanced a legislator's knowledge of issues and gave him or her sound ideas.

Compare this to one of the mindless "grass-roots" campaigns generated by the Chamber of Commerce, Ralph Nader, the Sierra Club or labor unions. Rather than letters providing them with information, congressmen and senators literally receive sacks of postcards saying something like "vote no on HR 350" or Mailgrams with three-sentence treatises on North American trade policy. Three-quarters of all the resources and energy expended in Congressional offices are spent sorting and stacking piles of this stuff so that computers can fake "personal" responses. Since the various mail-generating organizations have canceled each other out, the telephone has become the weapon of choice.

The whole game is a monstrous waste of time and resources. It does nothing to promote good policies or more effective government. The ambitious and the merely greedy have turned "advocacy" into a profitable industry with excellent growth potential. I can hardly wait to retire.

DAVID MacLEOD

Kensington, Md.

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