The Gop's Stumble In Cyberspace

CYBERDEMOCRACY SEEMS TO have backfired on House Republicans, who are big boosters. Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) wants Capitol Hill more wired into the Internet, so citizens have direct access to their government. Fine, except for a furious electronic lobbying battle over public access to a Justice Dept. database on court decisions.

The Republicans were stymied on their bid to aid West Publishing, the company that helped set up the database for Justice and also makes a lucrative living supplying legal citations to private lawyers. West worries that, since the database is part of a public agency, it could be released to Internet bulletin boards--destroying the company's main business. Result: Chairman William Clinger (R-Pa.) recently tried to push a measure through his House Government Reform & Oversight Committee aimed at blocking public access to the database without West's O.K. McGraw-Hill, publisher of BUSINESS WEEK, backed West.

Outraged, Naderite lobbyist Jamie Love, head of the Taxpayer Assets Project, posted a note on the Net that decried the provision as thwarting access to public documents.

Lawmakers were flooded with fax and E-mail protests. The committee overwhelmingly voted down Clinger's proposal, and it now says it plans to give the idea more study.

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