Political Porn 2: Does our obsession with national politics affect our interest in local politics?

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A few days ago, I was writing about our fascination with all the political porn coming out of Washington, the kind that is shown 24 hours a day on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC.

And it's this obsession of ours with the antics of Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Harry Reid, and their Congressional colleagues that consumes us when we, as South Carolinians, should be looking at what our legislators in Columbia are doing.

Well, the same also applies to our failure to pay attention to politics at the local level. A big difference between local politics and national politics is that city and town council members don't have to advertise their party affiliation.

Now, I would argue that because of this most folks ignore municipal matters. It doesn't fit into the accepted my team versus your team mentality that drives national politics, cable news, and the discussions we have with each other.

So as a little exercise, I wondered what it would be like to take an important story about a lawsuit against Mt. Pleasant Town Council by a former council member and change it up to reflect our national and partisan expectations. In essence, transforming it into the political porn will all crave.

Please head on over to the P&C to read the original story here before proceeding with the story below.

Washington, D.C. — The question of whether Congress conducts public business by e-mail in violation of the state Freedom of Information Act is a key issue in a lawsuit brought by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

The suit is expected to be heard next week by the U.S. Supreme Court. It alleges that a majority of Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee members frequently communicate with one another by e-mail on public matters. In its response to the suit, Democratic members of the Congressional committee deny the allegation.

"He can rule me out on that, without question," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a member of the Banking Committee. He communicates with committee staff by e-mail, but 99.9 percent of the time does not respond to an e-mail from a senator on the committee, he said.

DeMint's suit was filed in 2006, when Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin was a senator.

"I think his quest for transparency is good. Do I think anyone intentionally hid anything? No," Feingold said.

Feingold, who gave a deposition for the suit, said Congress saves e-mails between senators members and staff. He did not save copies of e-mails between himself and another senator.

"Then you're saying you can't talk about town business if the two of you are standing in the hallway," he said.

A quorum for a Congressional committee is five members, which is necessary for official business to occur in a public meeting. If a quorum is present for a private discussion, then it could be considered an illegal meeting, officials said.

"I never saw a situation where an e-mail was going back and forth between five or more people in a discussion-type thing. I don't believe that you can really conduct a meeting by e-mail," Feingold said.

That sort of thing might happen on a conference call, he said.

Ray Slander, attorney for the U.S. Press Association, said electronic communication may not be used to circumvent the FOIA.

E-mails between two senators on private computers probably would not be considered public record, he said, but e-mail from a senator to congressional staff is considered public and the federal government is required to save it, he said.

DeMint's allegations against the town date to 2005, including his assertion in court documents that Congress illegally changed an agenda at the last minute, met without proper notice to the public and misrepresented the purpose of an executive session.

"Mr. DeMint has filed a suit. He has every right to do that," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "We believe we made every effort to follow all legal procedure."

DeMint and his attorney, Rahm Tinsley, declined comment.

DeMint's suit asks a judge to declare that the Congress violated the FOIA in certain instances described in the litigation, including a committee vote on Dec. 5, 2006, to buy Potomac River property for $6 million.

The suit also asks a judge to issue an injunction preventing future conduct by Congress that violates the FOIA.

DeMint and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) clashed over what Kennedy described in a 2005 letter to Reid as his "disrespectful and confrontational attitude" toward the Banking Committee.

In the letter, Kennedy suggested that it might be time for DeMint to consider whether it would be best for him to resign. Reid responded that he is assertive, not disrespectful.

The Senate appointed DeMint to the committee in 2005. Midway through his four-year term, commission members elected him chairman. DeMint said in 2009 that he was not reappointed to another term by Congress because he had questioned the legality of some congressional actions.

"Going back to 2005, the committee attacked me for asking the U.S. attorney general if the nation violated the law by approving the Central Potomac River Development without Planning Commission approval. According to the AG, they did violate it," he said at the time.

"The committee reacted to the AG opinion by secretively crafting a letter requesting I resign, for 'lack of respect' in requesting the opinion, and then leaked that letter to the press before I received it. That was a punitive action, as the Freedom of Information Act suit I filed states. The decision not to reappoint me is more of the same," he said.

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