Cornyn: New White House Program Threatens First Amendment

Posted August 5, 2009 at 2:01pm

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) called on the White House on Wednesday to dissolve a newly launched Web-based program designed to target misinformation in the health care debate.The National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, in a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday, raised concerns that the program infringes on First Amendment rights.“I am not aware of any precedent for a President asking American citizens to report their fellow citizens to the White House for pure political speech that is deemed fishy’ or otherwise inimical to the White House’s political interests,— Cornyn wrote. The “actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program.—Cornyn’s letter is a follow-up to a whitehouse.gov blog post Tuesday, in which New Media Director Macon Phillips urged citizens to report e-mails and other Web-related materials “about health insurance reform that seems fishy.—“There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care,— the post said. “These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help.—The Senate is poised to break for the August recess Friday. Members are likely to talk to constituents about the ongoing health care debate that has consumed much of Congress’ attention of late.Cornyn, a member of the Finance Committee that is slated to mark up a health care reform bill in mid-September, warned that the White House program could have a chilling effect on citizen participation. “As Congress debates health care reform and other critical policy matters, citizen engagement must not be chilled by fear of government monitoring the exercise of free speech rights.—