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The Congressman Who Loves Spam

July 20, 2000

Email users bombarded with irritating, unsolicited junk email applauded the U.S. House of Representatives' nearly unanimous vote Tuesday to ban spam. H.R. 3113, which would fine spammers $500 for each piece of unsolicited junk email they send, would have passed unanimously were it not for the representative known throughout the House as "Dr. No."

Of the 428 votes cast, only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) voted -- as his nickname implies -- no.

Paul's colleagues chuckled and shrugged at his vote, noting a 12-year voting record that consistently shows he will oppose any bill that merely hints that the federal government will encroach on people's rights.

"He has a good reputation as a member that votes his conscience regardless of what anyone else is doing," said Kevin McDermott, spokesman for Heather Wilson, the New Mexico Republican who authored the Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 1999. "He has a set of principles he stands by and has a long history of doing so."

"I don't believe Congress has the authority to get involved in this," Paul said, explaining his no vote.

Paul's vote didn't make Ray Everett-Church, founder of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE), blink, either.

"Congressman Ron Paul has a very strong Libertarian streak to his voting record and it doesn't surprise me that he would be opposed to legislation that seeks to curtail the rights of marketers," Everett-Church said.

This isn't the first time Paul has gone head-to-House on an issue. In the last few months, he was the only member of Congress to deny gold medals -- awarded for long-lasting social impact -- to Pope John Paul II, Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, and "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz. He has also said nay to medals for Mother Teresa and civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.

In June, he stood alone on a bill that would ban the cutting off of sharks' fins and casting the carcasses into the sea. The bill passed 390-1.

Paul, an obstetrician and gynecologist by trade and former presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, said his principles are based on a strict interpretation of the Constitution, which he posts in its entirety on his website, "Project Freedom."

The legislation he has supported reflects his passion for tax cuts and his disdain for the federal government getting involved in such matters as gun ownership and overseas conflicts. He was the only member of Congress in September not to pass a resolution urging Haiti to conduct fair, free, and peaceful elections.

"I think most people see me as very predictable," Paul said. "I think most people know how I'm going to vote. That's why lobbyists don't approach me."

He applies his dogma equally to the Internet.

He said he opposed Wilson's anti-spam bill because it would cost taxpayers $60 million in computers and Federal Trade Commission labor to implement, and it would stomp on laws already on the books in 16 states.

He is also confident the high-tech industry can handle the problems associated with unsolicited junk email on its own.

"This bill preempts state law," Paul said. "Why do we need $60 million to regulate the Internet? I don't know."

Those who lobbied long and hard for the anti-spam bill respectfully disagreed with Paul's stance.

"The congresswoman (Wilson) went through great lengths to make sure this was as narrowly focused as possible," McDermott said. "She certainly doesn't favor intrusive government regulation of e-commerce on the Internet. She would very much share those concerns, but she would argue that this is a basic consumer rights issue."

Paul's maverick style hasn't scared off his Republican compatriots in the House. Recently, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) traveled to Paul's district to campaign for him. The district extends across 22 counties, from the suburbs of Austin and San Antonio to the Gulf Coast just south of Houston.

This November, Paul faces a Democratic contender, Loy Sneary who is a farmer, rancher, and former county judge from Matagorda County, Texas.

Sneary, who has been helping parents in his district enroll in the national children's health care program, CHIP, said someone needs to stand up for the little guy.

"You will find that on the Children's Health Insurance Program, he was a 'no' vote on that," Sneary said.

Elisa Batista, Wired News


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