FBI Action Perceived as Intimidation



Kelly Ceballos



Mary Boyle



Statement by Kay J. Maxwell, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States and Chellie Pingree, President of Common Cause

Washington, D.C. – The League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) and Common Cause expressed concern today over a recent incident involving the League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties (LWVBCC) in Michigan, Common Cause and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“At a time when Americans are relying on the FBI to protect against terrorism, it seems strange that precious resources would be spent contacting citizen advocacy groups to question their work educating the public about open government. Such behavior smacks of intimidation,” said Kay J. Maxwell, LWVUS President.

“The FBI’s actions in this instance seemed intended to have a chilling effect on the right of Americans to freely express themselves,” said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause.

The LWVBCC on March 14 sponsored a public meeting on Openness in Government. Common Cause President Chellie Pingree was among four members of a panel that included representatives of the media, academic and legal communities. The forum was part of the League’s activities during national Sunshine Week, March 12-18, 2006. Leagues across the country sponsored similar community forums to stimulate public discussion about why open government is important to everyone and why it is under challenge today.

After the panel, an FBI agent contacted the local League president, Susan Gilbert, to challenge comments that Pingree made at the LWV panel that were reported in a local newspaper on March 17.

According to Gilbert, FBI agent Al DiBrito said that “this Pingree woman” was “way off base” in her comments about the USA PATRIOT Act, and that the League should have invited someone from the federal government to be on the panel and to respond. DiBrito told Gilbert that she would be contacted by someone from the assistant U.S. attorney’s office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to give her the real story on the USA PATRIOT Act.

The local League of Women Voters and Common Cause raised their concerns in a letter sent Tuesday (read the letter) to FBI Director Robert Mueller.

“Citizens can be intimidated when an FBI agent calls and questions their activities,” said Maxwell. “Why should a citizen meeting on open government merit the attention of the FBI?” said Pingree.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.