Rep. John Lewis Trolled by Conservative Media
Freedom of speech and the right to openly disagree were enshrined in our Constitution by the founders of this nation because criticism and debate play a powerful and important role in a democratic society. During the colonial period, English law specifically prohibited something called “seditious libel,” defined as speaking critically of the government or its officials. Before 1700 in this country, there were 1244 prosecutions for seditious speech. People could be humiliated by public confinement to stocks, subjected to public whippings and more, simply for criticizing the government and its officials.
Early Americans rankled against tax structures and had a variety of criticisms against British rule, which ultimately gave rise to the American Revolution. The founders ensured their very First Amendment to our Constitution protected the right to free speech for all Americans. It is unfortunate that we are not all aware of this history and that substantive disagreement in our society today gives rise to bullying, trolling, negative barbs and personal attacks.
Debating the issues is healthy for our society, but negative personal attacks are unnecessary and damage the credibility of an argument. Personal attacks, first and foremost, avoid the substance of the criticism at hand, and secondly resort to intimidation as an attempt to silence all dissent, which is not in keeping with the values of our society.
Rep. Lewis has been subject to trolling and attacks by conservative media, not as a response to the important national security issues he has raised, but in an attempt to destroy his integrity and that of his staff. Two erroneous criticisms have been lobbed at Rep. Lewis and his team. These are the responses to those claims:
- Rep. Lewis’s Washington, DC property was purchased decades ago for a fraction of its current value today. As most Washingtonians and any real property expert know, property values in the city have risen exponentially in the last 10 to15 years. Rep. Lewis is delighted that he made a wise investment years ago, and that his property’s value has skyrocketed. He also realizes he likely could not afford to purchase his own home were he seeking to buy it today. In 2010, he was subjected to attempts to foreclose upon his home, like many Americans during that period. He is fortunate that he was able to stop that process, though many Americans, including many hundreds of his constituents, were not as successful. His property taxes are paid and currently up to date.
- House ethics rules state: “Senior staff ‘may not receive any compensation for either providing legal services to a political organization, or for serving as an officer (such as treasurer) of such an organization.’” At one point during the 2016 election season, Rep. Lewis’s chief of staff, paid as a consultant to the 2016 campaign, was listed as the treasurer of the Lewis campaign. This was a temporary measure meant to fill a gap. The former treasurer had to leave the campaign and, in the interim while a new treasurer was being interviewed, Michael Collins was listed as the treasurer of the campaign. His term of service was voluntary and as a substitute. At no time was he compensated for his role as acting treasurer, and once a new treasurer took office, Mr. Collins relinquished those duties. Because he was never compensated for his role as treasurer, he was not in violation of House ethics rules.
We have published these responses on our website for the public and reporters to see in an attempt to restrain our response to unmerited attacks, to elevate the quality of the debate, and to respect the dignity of the upcoming inauguration.