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web posted July 26, 1999

New York's Rep. Michael Forbes leaves GOP for Democrats

Saying the Republican Party has left no room for moderates in its ranks, three-term Rep. Michael Forbes switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party on July 17, further narrowing the Republican hold on the House.

At a press conference at his home, Forbes lamented that the GOP was in the grip of what he termed "a narrow band of ideologues whose extremist views put a distasteful face on a national party."

He said the Republican Party "has become an angry, narrow- minded, intolerant and uncaring majority, incapable of governing at all, much less from the center, and tone-deaf to the concerns of a vast majority of Americans."

Forbes represents New York's 1st District, which consists of the eastern half of Long Island in Suffolk County. Politically, the district is mixed. President Bill Clinton carried the district with a majority in 1996, but President George Bush won it in 1992.

Forbes, 47, once an aide to former Republican U.S. Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, won the seat in the Republican landslide of 1994, beating four-term Democratic incumbent George Hochbrueckner.

His House voting record generally has been conservative. He endorsed the Contract with America, opposes abortion rights and voted in 1996 to repeal the ban on certain types of assault weapons. He also voted in favor of all four impeachment counts against Clinton and has endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush for president in 2000.

However, he has also sided with environmentalists and voted to raise the minimum wage. And in 1997, he infuriated his party leadership by refusing to vote for Newt Gingrich for speaker, citing the ethics investigation against him.

With Forbes switching sides, the House now has 222 Republicans, 211 Democrats and one independent, Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist who often votes with the Democrats. One seat is vacant due to the death of Rep. George Brown (D-California.) It takes 218 seats for a majority in the 435-member House.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) praised Forbes' decision, saying "the real significance of his action is that it shows what Democrats have been saying about the Republican conference in the House is absolutely true."

"The Republican Party has been hijacked by the extreme right wing and has marginalized its moderate membership to the point of irrelevance," he said.

But a spokeswoman for the GOP House Campaign Committee, Jill Schroeder, said Forbes was "obviously putting his personal ego ahead of principle and ahead of the interests of his district, which is solidly Republican."

Two days after his resignation, Forbes' entire staff resigned stating that he had betrayed them and the Republican Party.

"As a good Republican, I can't for the life of me fathom why he'd make this move," said Brian Fauls, Forbes' legislative director and aide to the congressman since his arrival in Congress in 1995.

"Unfortunately, it could have been better," 21-year-old intern Kevin Daggs said of his experience with Forbes.

Fauls and others said six full-time aides and four interns were resigning from Forbes' Washington office. All six employees at Forbes' office in Shirley, N.Y., on eastern Long Island, also resigned, the Washington aides said. Only Washington chief of staff Jan Friis, who has worked for Forbes for several weeks, was considering remaining, they said. However, Forbes said his chief of staff in Long Island, Mark Woolley, had not resigned.

Resignation letters by some Washington aides were tinged with fury.

Robert Lawrence, a legislative aide hired only July 9, wrote that Forbes was "wantonly turning your back on the convictions and ideas that define a successful Republican."

And executive assistant Jeff LaCourse wrote, "The Democrats will come to regret your addition to their ranks as we will enjoy your absence from ours."

Jiang to Clinton: China won't rule out force against Taiwan

President Jiang Zemin warned U.S. President Bill Clinton that China would consider using force if Taiwan tries to split from the mainland, state media reported on July 19.

It was the highest-level threat so far in a Chinese war of words that began earlier in July when Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui said the two governments have "state-to-state" relations. Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, called that comment a step toward declaring formal independence, which it has pledged to prevent by force if necessary.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since anti-communist Nationalists fled to the island amid civil war 50 years ago. Both Taiwan and China say they are part of the same country.

"We are not committed to abandoning the use of force on the issue of Taiwan," the newspaper China Daily quoted Jiang as telling Clinton in a telephone call the night before. "There are certain forces on the island of Taiwan and in the international community which aim to separate Taiwan from the motherland. We will not stand by and let this happen."

In Washington, the White House said Clinton reaffirmed U.S. support for the "one China" policy during the call.

"He hoped both sides could maintain a dialogue, and the cross-straits issues could be resolved peacefully," said White House spokesman David Leavy.

Leavy said he had no comment about Jiang's statement on the possibility of military action.

Lee enraged Beijing when he said in a German radio interview broadcast July 9 that the rival governments have "state-to-state" relations. Beijing denounced that as a rejection of the "one China" policy.

The dispute threatens to wreck attempts at restarting talks that Beijing broke off in 1995 in anger over Lee's efforts to raise Taiwan's international profile.

China's top envoy on Taiwan affairs, Wang Daohan, had been scheduled to visit the island this year. But Wang's agency, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, said two weeks ago he might cancel unless Taiwan clarifies Lee's comments.

The report of Jiang's warning received prominent exposure in China, appearing on the front page of the main Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, and other major newspapers.

"Splitting China's territory and sovereignty cannot be allowed under any circumstances," China Daily quoted Jiang as saying to Clinton. "We have warned the Taiwan authorities to stop on the brink of any kind of separation attempts and avoid damage to the cross-straits relationships."

Taiwan also sent a delegation to Washington this week to explain its position though had little success since it didn't contribute money to the Clinton campaign. The government says Wang's Taiwanese counterpart, Koo Chen-fu, is preparing a response to the demand for an explanation.

PBS list swaps draw no penalty

The president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting acknowledged on July 20 that as many as 30 of the nation's 75 largest public television stations traded donor lists with the Democratic National Committee but said none will be punished for doing it.

Robert Coonrod also told members at an emergency hearing of the House Commerce Committee's telecommunications, trade and consumer protection subcommittee that stations swapped lists with seven little-known Republican groups, which one lifelong GOP member said she had never heard of before.

Under critical questioning about the nationwide list-swapping practices that surfaced last week, Coonrod said he will ask the nation's 353 public TV stations and 694 public radio stations to quit trading lists with political committees and to stop handing out members' names without their permission.

"If a station makes donor lists available to a political party, that is wrong -- however, it is not illegal," Coonrod said, although he acknowledged that he is "neither an attorney nor an expert in the IRS code."

The independently owned stations set their own policies, but Coonrod said he plans to withhold funding from those that fail to comply with Internal Revenue Service regulations. The IRS generally bans the tax-exempt nonprofit stations from political activity except in extremely limited circumstances.

Lawmakers have threatened to cut federal funding for public broadcasting if the CPB does not find a way to halt the political trades. They do not plan to block list swaps with groups such as Planned Parenthood and Handgun Control Inc. About 15 percent of public broadcasting funds come from the federal government, which the CPB distributes to the stations via the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR).

Subcommittee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, demanded that the CPB's inspector general investigate the list trades at all the stations within a month and provide him with weekly updates until the task is complete.

Tauzin, who supports public television, said the list-swapping practice "threatens the integrity of public broadcasting" and "further deepens suspicions that many people have had about public broadcasting."

Conservative critics have long complained that public TV caters to liberal political and cultural tastes and should no longer be subsidized by taxpayers since cable TV can fill those needs.

Both Republicans and Democrats were angered that stations were swapping member lists with political groups.

Coonrod told them that his preliminary survey found that Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, swapped donor names with KQED-TV in San Francisco.

His survey also found that in addition to the approximately 30 stations that swapped lists with political groups, about another 20 also traded with other nonprofit groups. He said he expects the numbers to grow when investigators begin a more intensive probe.

Though stations swapped lists with the DNC, Mr. Coonrod said he has found no instances where stations swapped with its GOP counterpart, the Republican National Committee. They did find about seven cases where they traded with little-known groups such as the Country Club Republicans and the Great American Donors, Coonrod said.

Rep. Barbara Cubin of Wyoming said she has "been a Republican all my life" but has never heard of the groups.

Cubin wants the IRS to investigate the list swaps in addition to the General Accounting Office probe Tauzin has ordered.

She said she believes some stations violated IRS regulations. The regulations on list swaps say that a group that "regularly sells or rents its mailing list to other organizations will not violate the political campaign prohibition if it sells or rents the list to a candidate on the same terms the list is sold or rented to others, provided the list is equally available to all other candidates on the same terms."

Asked why he didn't automatically question other stations when the first list-swapping case surfaced in Boston in May, Coonrod answered, "Exchanging membership lists with political parties was such a manifestly stupid thing to do, it never occurred to me."

Coonrod said CPB has not "found any station that has exchanged a member list with a political party directly," but said there may be "information out there that we have not collected."

PBS President Ervin Duggan testified the list-swapping was "embarrassing and downright stupid."
During the hearing, Rep. Steve Largent, Oklahoma Republican, highlighted his demands for reforming public television by showing video excerpts from a PBS program that featured a soccer coach telling children that homosexuality is acceptable.

Rep. Michael G. Oxley, Ohio Republican, told members that "when we consider authorization levels for public broadcasting, I believe we have to ask ourselves the following threshold question: Should the viewing habits of those who watch 'Masterpiece Theatre' really be subsidized by those who prefer the World Wrestling Federation?"

Jerry Springer for U.S. Senate?

Jerry Springer already has viewers hooked. Now, some Ohio Democrats are pushing the controversial TV talk show host as a candidate in next year's U.S. Senate race.

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke says he's talked with Springer and the state Democratic Party chairman about a possible candidacy for the seat held by Mike DeWine. No comment so far from Springer.

Political consultant Gerald Austin says in some respects, politics has become entertainment. And he says if Jesse Ventura can get elected governor of Minnesota, Springer may be successful.

Springer was mayor of Cincinnati before going into TV. He was re-elected even after he patronized a prostitute and paid her with a check.

As for Springer himself, he remained largely non-committal on the idea but didn't rule it out either.

A Net for business, not laws

A new Internet industry coalition will add another voice to the chorus of think tanks and lobbying groups trying to discourage government regulation of the Internet.

The Washington, DC-based Hands Off the Internet is comprised of 15 eclectic groups and companies, including Americans for Tax Reform, AT&T, and Americans for Sound Public Policy.

The group made its debut at Internet World on July 20. The goal is to encourage local, state, and federal governments to back away from regulating high-speed access, taxation, and Web content.

Hands Off executive director, former White House speechwriter Peter Arnold, said government intervention does not help the development of the digital marketplace.

"If the government had tried to regulate broadband access two years ago, they would have been regulating ISDN lines. You don't hear much about ISDN these days," he said.

"Today we have cable modems and DSL and tomorrow we may have wireless and satellite. Once the government starts meddling in one or two aspects of this issue, the marketplace is distorted and change becomes more difficult."

On the issue of taxation, the coalition does not oppose sales taxes on goods sold by an e-commerce vendor in one state to a customer in the same state, but it does oppose creating new taxes that treat e-commerce differently from other forms of commerce.

"If you get The Wall Street Journal delivered to your doorstep in Connecticut, you don't pay any taxes on that," Arnold said.

"But if you subscribe to the on-line edition you pay a tax because Connecticut considers that to be a taxable data transfer. Delivered on-line or by mail, it's the same product, but Connecticut singles out the on-line form for taxation."

Connecticut taxes information and software purchased over the Internet, but the state passed a law in 1997 that reduces that tax by one percent each year, and eliminates it altogether in 2002, according to Vertex, a tax reference company that tracks Internet taxation.

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