We depart at the moment from the usual agenda of PK concerns to address a couple of public attacks on an organization that doesn't deserve such a fate. The group in question is the private sector Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus.
The Committee was the subject of a cynical and mean-spirited item in this morning's Washington Post as well as on a blog which was apparently the source for the article.
In each case, the Committee was attacked for being some sort of lobbying vehicle for powerful special interests because it raised money to cover the costs of one of its programs — a highly important and interesting one on wireless location technology and social networking.
The Post piece even inserted the snidest of editorial comments at the end, as if the writer did not believe that that the Committee's fund raising was, if not altrustic, at least necessary.
Let me be clear on a couple of things. First, fund raising is not pretty. It is unfortunate that the Committee had to do so in order to present a comprehensive program. The money to support a hotel room and A-V equipment certainly won't come from public interest groups. But offering a company to distribute pens or let its sponsorship be made known is a far cry from a “back door” lobbying opportunity.
Second, focusing on the fund raising for this event ignores the ten-year history of an organization that has striven mightily, and succeeded, to present balanced, informative and worthwhile programs on Internet-related issues to members of Congress and Congressional staff and the wider public. The Committee's opening seminar in February is one of the must-attend events of the year in telecom/Internet policy circles. Look at the list of speakers of the events over the years. It's quite impressive and diverse.
The agenda for the year is set by an open process. Meetings are held periodically and everyone, public-interest and industry, contributes ideas for topics and for speakers, both for the agenda for the year and for specific programs. Private sector interests may contribute money. But the important fact to note is that they do not control the agenda. That's what counts.
There is a difference between how something “looks” and how something really is. To the uninformed, the Committee's “sponsorship” looks like a sell-out. To those of us who know the Committee and have worked with it over the years, as I observed it as a reporter and participated through PK, the reality is quite different. In some instances, perception is reality. In this case, the inaccurate perception distorts the reality that the Committee is an organization to be admired, not to be smeared. The Committee, and its staff, led by Executive Director Tim Lordan, are owed an apology.
We now return you to the normal PK issues.