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Return to Sender? House Rules May Thwart Delivery of Doug Hughes' Letter

Congressional rules may stop the latest attempt to get Hughes' letter to members of Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A Connecticut man who wants to redress his grievances about campaign finance with a letter to Congress has learned security measures make it impossible to hand-deliver individually addressed mail to House members. In the Senate, he'll need an armed escort. Joe Lane, 71, planned to sling a mail bag over his shoulder and walk the halls of Capitol Hill's office buildings Wednesday, hand-delivering letters signed by Florida mailman Douglas Hughes to each member until his "legs give out."  

Compared to Hughes' first delivery attempt on April 15, when he strapped a U.S. Postal Service bin full of letters to his landing gear and piloted a gyrocopter from Pennsylvania to the West Front of the Capitol, Lane's venture is "about as straightforward as can be in a representative democracy," the author and moviemaker said during a June 5 phone interview.  

But Capitol Police are warning his plan still violates congressional rules, Lane told CQ Roll Call.  

On June 4, Lane's cellphone rang. He missed the call from the Washington-based number, but called back and found himself speaking to a Capitol Police agent. The woman questioned Lane about his reported plan , then explained why it might get him into trouble.  

House rules do not permit “mass deliveries,” Lane said he was told. “I understand because of the [anthrax letters] that they want to scan this stuff,” he said. “I had asked Capitol Police, ‘How about if I give you letters, you scan them, and then give back to me?’ The answer was, ‘No, we scan. We deliver.’"  

Mass mail can be hand-delivered in Senate office buildings, as long as the envelope isn’t sealed, Lane said he learned from the agent. Two hours later, Lane said the agent called and told him, "We’re concerned that maybe the guards at the Senate offices might not know the rules, so we’re going to give you an escort to make sure you don’t have a problem getting in."  

Asked about the call and instructions Lane received, Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider clarified the mail policy in an email. Schneider said deliveries to congressional office buildings "from unauthorized carriers are directed to the Congressional Acceptance Site" on D Street Northeast, for security screening prior to delivery.  

The plan has been in the works for weeks, and a few congressional offices are already privy to the details, though it's not clear whether any staffers alerted law enforcement.  

First, Lane "tracked down the fellow who landed his gyrocopter on the Hill." He mailed a copy of the letter to Hughes' Tampa-based residence, where the 61-year-old awaits his next court appearance  on a slew of felony and misdemeanor charges.  

Hughes endorsed the second page of the letter, as well as Lane's proposal to walk the halls of Congress until his legs "give out." Hughes then sent an email to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and the 39 senators co-sponsoring a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would authorize Congress and the states to set limits on campaign fundraising and spending.

"I note with great pleasure your support of a Constitutional Amendment which will establish as the highest law of the  land that corporations are not people and money is not speech," Hughes wrote. "Perhaps your office will be prepared to respond to Joe when he visits with whatever statement seems appropriate. His personal commitment to complete the delivery of a critical message is a noble act which reflects the grave importance of the amendment you sponsor."

Meanwhile, Lane printed more than 500 copies of the letter, and stuffed them into envelopes addressed to each "Honorable" member of Congress. He booked a hotel room in Silver Spring, Md., and planned an 8:30 a.m. start in the Cannon House Office Building, until law enforcement threw a wrench in his schedule.  

"It seems particularly silly," Lane said. "I am a private citizen. I have no record of ever doing anything bad and I’m delivering a letter. The letter is hardly a secret — it's been published in the news."  

On Monday morning, Lane announced a modification of the plan. He will kick delivery day off at Capitol Police headquarters on D Street Northeast, then head to the office of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate president pro tem.  

"Once I’ve completed my deliveries to the Senate offices, I’ll move on to the House,” Lane said in an email. “I’ll keep going until I complete this important mission, they stop me, or my legs give out, whichever comes first.”  

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