Monday, November 16, 2009

Verbatim Transcript?

During my Advanced Legal Research class this morning, we were talking about the Congressional Record and the fact that members of Congress are allowed to edit and add to their remarks before they are published. One of the students mentioned that she had read a story in the New York Times over the weekend which described lobbyists for Genentech who managed to get statements they had written "printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress. ... Genentech ... estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points--22 Republicans and 20 Democrats ..." This is why, "[i]n the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities." According to the Times,

Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to 'revise and extend my remarks.' It is unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.

... The statements were not intended to change the bill, which was not open for much amendment during the debate. They were meant to show bipartisan support for certain provisions, even though the vote on passage generally followed party lines.

Some members of Congress used the language provided by the lobbyists verbatim, while others "tweaked" the language to fit their personal style. It is interesting to note that some of these Representatives had received campaign contributions from Genentech, which also had hosted fundraisers for them.

This seems like a particularly egregious example of the influence that lobbyists have in the legislative process. I'm happy to report that my students found the story somewhat shocking, coming as it did so recently after we'd discussed the legislative process. The story underscored why it is so difficult to make any meaningful institutional change in this country.

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