The House speaker is criticized for sending out 25,000 unsolicited e-mails.
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published September 10, 2003
TALLAHASSEE - Doris Wiles had just been spammed and she didn't like it.
So she told her husband, state Rep. Doug Wiles, who just happened to know who sent the annoying e-mail - House Speaker Johnnie Byrd.
The result is yet another controversy involving Byrd and his aggressive use of computer technology at a time when he's seeking the Republican Party nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Byrd's office confirmed sending out unsolicited e-mails to Mrs. Wiles and 25,000 other Floridians whose names are on individual lawmakers' e-mail contact lists. Wiles' husband, Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, the House Democratic leader, called Byrd to complain and to ask for a full explanation.
"It was a glitch," said Byrd's spokeswoman, Nicole deLara. "The members' e-mails are private, secure and untouched by anyone except them and their respective staffs."
Democrats question whether Byrd was caught spamming Floridians to advance his political ambitions, and they want explanations.
"I think people would be appalled to know that they are on a spam list, so that their government can send them things they didn't ask for," Rep. Wiles said. "If there is an effort to get constituent contact information from my e-mail, I consider that a violation of privacy of those that I serve."
Byrd took office last fall promising to take communications to new heights in the Florida House of Representatives.
He has used the Internet and e-mail to reach citizens at a level unmatched by his predecessors, but has been criticized.
Byrd has used the official House Web site, an instrument of state government, to promote the Republican majority's agenda.
He has spent $3-million, some of it on lawyers and computer firms with ties to his office, to upgrade the balky computer system he inherited from his predecessor, Tom Feeney, now a member of Congress.
He has suggested purchasing handheld BlackBerry e-mail devices, which sell for more than $300 apiece, for every House member.
He sent mailings at taxpayer expense to showcase his position on abortion and education.
What Doris Wiles received looked innocuous enough: a brief legislative survey, produced by Byrd's office, asking voters to rate the issues they consider most important. It was intended to be sent to people who had previously e-mailed the speaker's office. Respondents are required to provide an e-mail address for their opinions to be counted.
Democrats said they were not asked to help write the survey.
"He didn't ask us,' Wiles said.
Although the latest computer gaffe raised the image of an electronic raid on a co-worker's files, Democrats gave Byrd the benefit of the doubt until they have a better understanding of how the e-mail system works.
"He told me he didn't authorize it. I will take him at his word," said Wiles, who called Byrd on Tuesday to voice his concerns. "But I think we need a good and thorough explanation of what happened, and the steps that will be taken to ensure that it doesn't happen again."
Byrd spokeswoman deLara said the House has a master list of anyone who has ever sent an e-mail message to somebody whose e-mail address ends in myfloridahouse.com. That list would include anyone who has ever e-mailed a House member.
DeLara said 60,000 e-mail addresses were on the House filter, and about 25,000 received it before it was caught.
The legislative survey, and another official e-mail to 85,000 teachers touting Byrd's alternative to the class size amendment, are the latest examples of his aggressive use of computer technology to reach voters.
The class size e-mail, distributed Aug. 29, lists 10 House members, all of them Republicans, who support the plan to limit class size reduction to grades K-3, while improving teacher salaries.
The e-mail addresses of 85,000 teachers have been in the House's possession since before Byrd took office, and Democrats also had the list, deLara said. Democrats confirmed they received the list in April.