Congress goes electronic in wake of anthrax attack

WASHINGTON: News that Sen. Tom Daschle's (D-SD) office received a

letter laced with Anthrax resulted in the cessation of all mail delivery

to Congress last Monday. Sensing both an opportunity and an obligation,

Capitol Advantage, a public affairs vendor that facilitates electronic

communication with Congress, leapt into action.



Within hours of the shutdown, the firm had sent scores of e-mails to

media organizations providing them with a "sticker" they could place on

their websites that, when clicked, would allow users to e-mail their

senators and representatives. Capitol Advantage also sent reminders to

customers - mostly advocacy groups and nonprofits - and the general

public that they could e-mail legislators via Congress.org.



"We're Americans too," said marketing coordinator Eric Welch. "We don't

want to take advantage of this situation, but we do want to provide this

service." Welch added that Capitol Advantage sees no profits from

Congress.org.



Public affairs experts and members of Congress themselves have long

considered e-mail an inferior, if not ineffective, method for contacting

Congress.



A study released last year by the Congress Online Project even suggested

that an overwhelming influx of e-mail was disabling Congress' fragile

internet system, and was going unanswered to boot. But in the wake of

Monday's events, several members of Congress, including Paul Wellstone

(D-MN), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Mike Enzi (R-WY), encouraged constituents

to contact them electronically.



Although numbers were not available as of press time, Capitol Advantage

claimed that the website received a significant jump in visitors in the

hours following the shutdown.



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