Press-Republican

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February 18, 2014

Go paperless? One group lobbying against it

WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration pushes to do more business over the Internet, finally seeking to close the technology gap with the private sector, the digital makeover is running into a dogged opponent called Consumers for Paper Options.

The group is working the halls of Congress in closed-door meetings, underwriting research favorable to its position and mounting a news media campaign in an effort to preserve Washington as the capital of paper — and slow the move away from printed checks, forms and other paper communication.

The lobbying group has had some recent victories, including language tucked into last month's budget deal that requires the government to plan for resuming paper delivery of annual Social Security earnings statements to some of the nation's 150 million future retirees. And it's been claiming these wins in the name of the elderly and low-income Americans the Internet has left behind.

Except Consumers for Paper Options is a creation of the paper industry.

The group — which bills itself as "a coalition of individuals and organizations advocating for access to paper-based services and information" — was set up by the Envelope Manufacturers Association (EMA), officials from both organizations said. It receives financial backing from the paper industry's largest trade group, several of North America's biggest paper manufacturers and the EMA, according to documents and interviews with company and trade association officials. The EMA and other paper companies are also pushing for Congress to pass legislation to help stabilize the Postal Service.

Consumers for Paper Options is led by a veteran advocate for the industry's interests on Capitol Hill. His previous posts include head of government relations for International Paper, the largest pulp and paper company in the world, and treasurer of its PAC.

"The glitzy new thing is to be pro-technology," said John Runyan, Consumers for Paper Options' executive director. "But a lot of government agencies are saying, 'We're going electronic and the heck with it.' "

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