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GOP May Increase Government Surveillance in Lame Duck

November 29, 2014
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A lame duck Congress is always fraught with danger for those who want to restrain government. Inevitably there will be one or two pieces of legislation that “must pass” before the end of the year. The public isn’t paying attention and there are a handful of politicians who will be casting the final votes of their political careers. Combine this environment with mega-donor Sheldon Adelson’s desire for a federal ban of online gaming and an expansion of the federal leviathan is a very real possibility.

At issue is Senate and House legislation titled the “Restore America’s Wire Act,” legislation that would apply federal sports betting regulations to online gambling. The legislation, introduced by Republicans Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT), is a top priority for gambling mogul Shelden Adelson, who has pledged to “spend whatever it takes” to secure the law’s passage.

The proposed legislation would “update” a federal statute regulating wire transactions originally created in the 1960s. It would also supersede state laws and regulations of gambling, an action courts have long ruled would violate constitutional protections of state sovereignty.

In a recent op-ed, former GOP Rep. Ron Paul argued, “Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government given any authority to regulate activities such as online gambling. Arguing that “states rights” justifies creating new federal crimes turns the Tenth Amendment, which was intended to limit federal power, on its head.”

Last week, a letter from 12 national conservative organizations echoed this argument. “The real intention of this bill is to remove the state’s 10th Amendment authority to regulate online gambling as states see fit within their own borders. We hope you will not allow RAWA to become yet another instance where the federal government expands its encroachment of the states’ purview. State governments are more than capable of making this decision.”

A previous attempt to ban online poker and other games of chance on the internet was slipped into a Port Security bill by then GOP Leader Bill Frist with almost no debate. That legislation was enacted, causing dozens of online poker sites to shut down in the US, but the law itself has been mired in the courts.

This tactic, though, could be used again in the upcoming Congressional lame duck session. Setting aside constitutional concerns about the separation of powers, the proposed law would also necessitate a dramatic increase in federal surveillance of on-line activity.

Republicans just won historic majorities in the House and Senate, largely because of voter fatigue with an ever expanding federal government. If ever there were a time for federal politicians to show humility when debating the reach of federal power, this is certainly that time. The new GOP era in Congress hasn’t yet begun, but it ought not to be born out of another federal overreach.

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