VERIFY: Who's behind the anti-Rutherford billboard?

Jeff Valin reports. 5/5/17

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If you've driven on Interstate 295 near Atlantic Boulevard this week, you might have noticed a billboard slamming Florida Congressman John Rutherford, R-District 4.

The ad includes an image of Rutherford and the message: "Rutherford betrayed you. He said he'd represent you. Then he voted to let telecom companies sell your web history without your permission."

First Coast News first received word of the billboard in an email from a Massachusetts-based activist organization, Fight For The Future (FFTF), whose website describes its mission, in part, as:

"To ensure that the web continues to hold freedom of expression and creativity at its core. We seek to expand the internet's transformative power for good, to preserve and enhance its capacity to enrich and empower. We envision a world where everyone can access the internet affordably, free of interference or censorship and with full privacy."

Many of our viewers wanted to know: Who's behind the billboard?

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Verify Question: Did the FFTF pay for the ad? 

A phone call to the organization confirmed that, not only had it paid for the anti-Rutherford message, it had funded similar ones in other parts of the U.S., blasting representatives in those areas.

The organization is decrying Senate Joint Resolution 34, approved by Congress on March 28, 2017, regarding the boundaries of Internet usage privacy. The text of the bill is accessible by clicking here.

In essence, the bill overturned a ruling by the FCC in late 2016 that aimed to restrict the types and degree of information that Internet service providers (ISPs) could sell to third parties, without consent, about their customers' online activity.

S.J. Res 34 passed by a 215-205 vote that virtually followed party lines. On its site, FFTF openly singles out certain lawmakers, accusing them of pandering to the telecom industry at the expense of their constituents' personal and financial privacy.

Verify Question: Were privacy protections "slashed?"

As an academic point, First Coast News made sure to verify the vote itself. Congressional votes are a matter of public record. We found that all Representatives in our viewing area - except lone Democrat Al Lawson - voted "Yea" on the bill. To see the vote tally, click here.

As for the impact of the vote versus the rule it overturned, claims of which would be a greater benefit to the general populace are subject to interpretation.

“The idea that Congressman Rutherford was influenced by anyone other than his constituents on this vote is ridiculous," Congressman Rutherford's communications director, Taryn Fenske, told First Coast News, countering the FFTF assertions. "Congressman Rutherford chose to reduce President Obama's mandates while still ensuring online privacy, and this bill accomplishes that."

Fenske went on to say, "The FCC’s regulations, which never actually went into effect, created a false sense of privacy while picking winners and losers within the internet ecosystem."

Given the subjectivity of the 'right-or-wrong' claims from both sides, First Coast News will leave that last "Verify" as a draw.

If there's something you'd like us to Verify, either email us at verify@firstcoastnews.com or fill out the box below:

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