Earlier this week, I reported here and here about an incident that took place between Ken Moffett and U.S. Rep. Phil Hare, a two-term Democrat from Rock Island, Ill., who is running for re-election in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District.
It seems Congressman Hare has been selling himself on the campaign trail as a tried-and-true military veteran when, in fact, he does not meet the qualifications for “veteran status” (i.e., he is not a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable).
When Moffett, a veteran from Moline, Ill., asked Hare if he was going to stop telling people that he was a veteran, a heated discussion ensued. It was toward the end of that discussion, Moffett contends, that he heard Hare instruct one of his aides to follow Moffett to his car and get his license plate number so he could find out who he was.
While complete details of the exchange are outlined in a June 2 letter Moffett sent to Blake Chisam, chief counsel and staff director of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to launch an inquiry into what the law says about Congressman Hare’s alleged actions.
Is it legal for a high-ranking elected official like Congressman Hare to obtain personal information about a constituent by having someone within the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles “run” his license plate number through the DMV computer system?
Dave Druker, press secretary for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, told me by phone Friday afternoon that — hypothetically speaking, of course — it is not legal for any employee of the State of Illinois’ Department of Motor Vehicles to provide personally-identifiable information about Illinois license plate holders to elected officials, including members of Congress. In fact, he said, providing such information to a congressman — again, hypothetically speaking and not related to the allegations against Hare — constitutes a violation of the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994.
Druker (sounds like “Drucker”) also explained, however, that the law does makes exceptions for members of the news media when it’s determined that providing them with the information is “in the public interest”. Odd. But I digress.
When I tracked down Congressman Hare’s daughter, Amy Hare, by phone at the Illinois Secretary of State DMV facility in Silvis, Ill., I asked her if her father had recently asked her to “run” the plates of any of his constituents through the “Land of Lincoln” DMV database in order to obtain confidential personal information about them. Not surprisingly, she said he had not.
But will he? He might if he takes cues from folks who contribute to his campaign.
The action Hare is alleged to have threatened to take violates the same law that members of UNITE HERE violated, according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April 2009, when they acquired the personal information of CINTAS employees through confidential motor vehicle records.
Not familiar with UNITE HERE? Here’s a primer: It’s a labor union comprised largely of the same kinds of people and espousing the same kinds of radical ideas as their brethren in the Service Employees International Union. It was formed in 2004 when UNITE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) joined forces with HERE (formerly the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union).
According to Federal Election Commission records, the congressman has received $10,000 from that UNITE HERE so far in 2010. That’s the same amount he received from the Purple People Beaters SEIU last year.