Spam Makes For Strange Bedfellows

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Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York liberal who supports gay and abortion rights, is teaming up with an unlikely ally as he takes on annoying spam e-mails - the Christian Coalition.

For Schumer, the pragmatic alliance makes sense to tap the conservative group's formidable clout on Capitol Hill. For the Christian Coalition, it's a chance to broaden its appeal to the political mainstream.

The two are planning a joint effort, to be announced Thursday, that will push legislation to reduce the amount of junk e-mail called spam, especially pornographic come-ons that now clog so many e-mail accounts.

"I sort of had a brainstorm one night and said, 'Why don't I reach out to the Christian Coalition?"' the Democratic senator said. "I called the lady, and she was very enthusiastic."

That lady is Roberta Combs, president of the 2 million member group that takes conservative stands on issues such as abortion and gay rights. Combs' group also is encouraging supporters to join the fight to end a filibuster by Senate Democrats of judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, a blockade led by Schumer.

But Combs said Tuesday that Schumer's anti-spam bill falls in line with her group's pro-family image.

"It's very easy to support this bill," said Combs. "I'm excited about working with him on this because it's something we need."

Schumer, who said part of his motivation to fight spam comes from knowing his Internet-surfing daughters have been accosted with anonymous spam messages peddling pornography, said it makes perfect sense to work with the Christian Coalition on the problem.

Schumer's legislation, which he introduced in April, is designed to curtail all types of spam. He worries about counter-efforts from direct-marketing interests, who don't want new laws restricting their appeals to mass markets.

"If I can line up a bunch of Democrats, and then she can line up a bunch of Republicans, we can make this happen finally," said Schumer. "If I can outflank the special interests, that's progress."

Schumer said he didn't think his newfound ally will cost him politically in liberal New York, as long as the partnership is for what most agree is a good cause.

"I want to get things done, and this is a good way to do it," said Schumer. "Spam is really ruining one of the great inventions of the 20th century."

John White, a professor of political science professor at the Catholic University of America, said the Christian Coalition's pairing with Schumer "shows a certain political deftness and savvy."

"They're actually working with someone they disagree with on 99 percent of all other issues, and who they would like to defeat when he runs for re-election in 2004," said White, who specializes in voting behavior and religion. "It removes them from the isolation of a particular political wing without compromising their own beliefs."

White said most people are so annoyed by spam, they just want someone to do something about it.

"A lot of that spam is pornography. I get it on my Catholic University e-mail all the time," White said. "I'm tired of it, and I think a lot of people are tired of it."

Combs did not want to say whether her group would support Schumer's re-election but didn't rule out working with him on other political projects.

"We agree on this," she said. "Who knows what the future holds."

By Devlin Barrett
By Devlin Barrett