MiCongress allows legislators to buy their own on-demand cable channel

Thanks to entrepreneur Stuart Shapiro, members of Congress can use taxpayers’ money to buy their own on-demand cable channel. Shapiro told the “Washington Post” that these public servants “work so diligently and have such a passion for caring for their constituents, but it’s not being reflected out in the real world.”

Shapiro’s company, iConstituent, started a new service called MiCongress. For about $2000 a month, members of Congress can speak directly to their constituents using on-demand television technology.

So far, five members have signed up: Reps. James P. Moran Jr., D-VA; Donna F. Edwards, D-MD; Solomon P. Ortiz, D-TX; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL; and Heath Shuler, D-NC.. The service costs two cents per reachable constituent and allows lawmakers to make available about 30 minutes of video at any given time.

Members of Congress are permitted to use their office budgets under Congress’s franking rules, because it is not considered — at least by Congress — a partisan or campaign speech.

The first to sign up was Moran, who has big plans for the channel, spokeswoman Emily Blout said. The target audience is the young professional set that makes up 40 percent of his Northern Virginia district, she said.

“In days gone by, you’d send out a newsletter blast to tell people what you’ve been doing, but a lot of people these days don’t read that stuff,” Blout told the “Washington Post.” “They don’t have the time or the inclination to read a pamphlet. This is another means for the congressman to provide services to the community.”

Moran’s channel contains clips of him explaining his views on several issues. It also includes a biographical video, though it clearly resembles a campaign commercial. Inspirational music surges as Moran shakes hands with constituents in Old Town Alexandria and talks about his passion for the environment. Blout and Shapiro say that despite its appearance, it is not intended to be a campaign piece.

“I’m just trying to make [people] feel good about their members of Congress,” said Shapiro, who produced the video. “It’s funny you would think of that as a campaign-style thing.”

Before starting iConstituent in 2003, Shapiro was best known for his role as a senior producer of “Night Flight,” a late-night variety show of music videos, cartoons, B movies and documentaries that aired in the 1980s and 1990s on the USA Network.