NEVER TOLERATE TYRANNY!....Conservative voices from the GRASSROOTS.
Here's one of the worst offenders:
By ERIC LIPTON and MICHAEL D. SHEARDEC. 14, 2015 NEW YORK TIMES
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency engaged in “covert propaganda” and violated federal law when it blitzed social media to urge the public to back an Obama administration rule intended to better protect the nation’s streams and surface waters, congressional auditors have concluded.
The ruling by the Government Accountability Office, which opened its investigation after a report on the agency’s practices in The New York Times, drew a bright line for federal agencies experimenting with social media about the perils of going too far to push a cause. Federal laws prohibit agencies from engaging in lobbying and propaganda.
“I can guarantee you that general counsels across the federal government are reading this report,” said Michael Eric Hertz, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York who has written on social media and the government.
An E.P.A. official on Tuesday disputed the finding. “We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities,” Liz Purchia, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement. “At no point did the E.P.A. encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature.”Photo
But the legal opinion emerged just as Republican leaders moved to block the so-called Waters of the United States clean-water rule through an amendment to the enormous spending bill expected to pass in Congress this week. While the G.A.O.’s findings are unlikely to lead to civil or criminal penalties, they do offer Republicans a cudgel for this week’s showdown.
“G.A.O.’s finding confirms what I have long suspected, that E.P.A. will go to extreme lengths and even violate the law to promote its activist environmental agenda,” Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is pressing to block the rule, said in a statement Monday. He decried “E.P.A.’s illegal attempts to manufacture public support for its Waters of the United States rule and sway congressional opinion.”
The E.P.A. rolled out a social media campaign on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even on more innovative tools such as Thunderclap, to counter opposition to its water rule, which effectively restricts how land near certain surface waters can be used. The agency said the rule would prevent pollution in drinking water sources. Farmers, business groups and Republicans have called the rule a flagrant case of government overreach.
The publicity campaign was part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to counter critics of its policies through social media tools, communicating directly with Americans and bypassing traditional news organizations.
At the White House, top aides to President Obama have formed the Office of Digital Strategy, which promotes his agenda on Twitter, Facebook, Medium and other social sites. Shailagh Murray, a senior adviser to the president, is charged in part with expanding Mr. Obama’s presence in that online world.
Thomas Reynolds, who as E.P.A. communications director directed many of the tactics decried by the G.A.O., recently moved to the White House to push the president’s global warming message with many of the same tools he deployed at his former agency.
White House officials declined to say if they think Mr. Reynolds or other agency officials did anything wrong.
Federal agencies are allowed to promote their own policies, but are not allowed to engage in propaganda, defined as covert activity intended to influence the American public. They also are not allowed to use federal resources to conduct so-called grass-roots lobbying — urging the American public to contact Congress to take a certain kind of action on pending legislation.
As it promoted the Waters of the United States rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule, the E.P.A. violated both of those prohibitions, a 26-page legal opinion signed by Susan A. Poling, the general counsel to the G.A.O., concluded in an investigation requested by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“E.P.A. appealed to the public to contact Congress in opposition to pending legislation in violation of the grass-roots lobbying prohibition,” the report says.
In a letter to the G.A.O. as the review was underway, Avi S. Garbow, the E.P.A.’s general counsel, said the agency had looked back at its social media campaign and concluded that it had complied with all federal laws, calling it “an appropriately far-reaching effort to educate the American public about an important part of E.P.A.’s mission: protecting clean water.”
The rule in question has been adopted by the agency, but its implementation was suspended nationally in October by a federal appeals court after opponents of the plan challenged it.
The G.A.O. report details two specific violations that took place as the E.P.A. was preparing to issue the final rule. The first involved the Thunderclap campaign in September 2014, in which the E.P.A. used a new type of social media tool to quickly reach out to 1.8 million people to urge them to support the clean-water proposal. Thunderclap, described as an online flash mob, allows large groups of people to share a single message at once.
“Clean water is important to me,” the Thunderclap message said. “I support E.P.A.’s efforts to protect it for my health, my family and my community.”
The effort violated federal law, the G.A.O. said, because as it ricocheted around the Internet, many people who received the message would not have known that it was written by the E.P.A., making it covert propaganda. The E.P.A. disputes this finding, noting that it sent out the original Thunderclap message and was hardly hiding its role.
The agency is also said to have violated the anti-lobbying law when one of its public affairs officers, Travis Loop, wrote a blog post saying he was a surfer and did not “want to get sick from pollution.” That post included a link button to an advocacy group that discussed the danger that polluted water posed to surfers and, at least at one point, also included text that said “Take Action,” telling the public to “tell Congress to stop interfering with your right to clean water.”
Such findings by the G.A.O. are infrequent but not without precedent. During George W. Bush’s administration, the G.A.O. concluded similarly that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Se... violated the anti-propaganda act in 2004 when it covertly paid for news videos distributed to television stations without disclosing that the government had financed the work. In 2005, the Department of Education was found to have violated the same law when it hired a public relations firm to covertly promote the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
The entire amount spent on the social media campaign in question is likely trivial. But whatever the cost, the G.A.O. asserted that it violated a federal Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal agencies from spending money without authorization. Penalties include fines and even possible jail time. But even Republicans on Capitol Hill say it will not be enforced that way.
The G.A.O. has instead instructed the E.P.A. to find out how much money was spent by staff involved in these violations, then write a report to Mr. Obama and Congress acknowledging the violation.
The E.P.A. has not yet decided if it will agree to take such a step, said Ms. Purchia, the E.P.A. spokeswoman.
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