Gyrocopter mail man: What was his message to Congress?

The gyrocopter mail man who landed on Capitol Hill ended up making a bold statement about security in Washington D.C., but that wasn't his intended message. What was he trying to say with his stunt?

James Borchuck/AP
Doug Hughes flies his gyrocopter near the Wauchula Municipal Airport in Wauchula, Fla. Police didn't immediately identify the man who steered his one-person helicopter onto the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, but Hughes, a Florida postal carrier, took responsibility for the stunt on a website.

When Doug Hughes set out in his gyrocopter to deliver letters to members of Congress, he was trying to start a national conversation about the influence of big money on government. But his method of delivery exposed national security loopholes that Mr. Hughes says overshadows his intended message.

Hughes attempted to deliver 535 letters, one for each member of Congress, onto the Capitol Hill lawn via a gyrocopter, which Hughes flew into protected airspace. This illegal action landed the Florida postal worker in jail for one night before he was placed under house arrest to await trial.

Despite the security concerns his stunt revealed, Hughes thinks his message is more important.

“We’ve got bigger problems in this country than worrying about whether the security around D.C. is ironclad,” Hughes told the Associated Press. “We need to be worried about the piles of money that are going into Congress.” 

Hughes’ letter begins by quoting John Kerry's farewell speech to the Senate, "The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself. They know it. They know we know it. And yet, Nothing Happens!"

He later cites a 2012 Gallup Poll that showed 87 percent of Americans surveyed said corruption in the federal government was "extremely important" or "very important," which puts the issue just behind job creation. Hughes then calls for a “voter’s rebellion“ and gives Congress three options: pretend corruption does not exist, pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform, or actively participate in real reform.

“The message was two pages long to Congress that they are going to have to face the issue, OK, of campaign-finance reform and honesty and government so that they work for the people,” Hughes told the AP.

Hughes provides suggestions, however impractical, for how reform could occur.

Through legislation and a Constitutional amendment, Hughes hopes that voters will come together and demand that corporations and the richest Americans not be allowed to funnel money into politicians' campaigns or individual policies for their own interests. 

“As I see it, campaign finance reform is the cornerstone of building an honest Congress,” Hughes wrote. “Erect a wall of separation between our elected officials and big money … A corporation is not 'people' and no individual should be allowed to spend hundreds of millions to 'influence' an election. That much money is a megaphone which drowns out the voices of 'We the People.'"

Campaign finance reform is a perennial issue, and a difficult one to tackle. Many of the declared – and would-be – 2016 presidential candidates have spoken of the need to reform how money is raised in politics. Hillary Rodham Clinton recently said that fixing the “dysfunctional” campaign finance system would be a top priority in her bid for president. This weekend in New Hampshire, Republican N.J. Gov. Chris Christie expressed his displeasure at the current system of funding campaigns: “I think what is corrupting in this potentially is we don’t know where the money is coming from."

But a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 effectively lifted the limits on campaign spending. In the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,  the court said that it was unconstitutional to ban independent political spending by corporations and unions.  And most political candidates don't want to be the first to stop taking super-PAC money, although many have called for the names of donors to be revealed.

While, as Hughes noted, corruption may be an important issue for American voters, specifically tackling the issue of campaign finance isn't a high priority. In a January Pew Poll, which ranked 23 public policy issues, "money in politics" came in at 20.  

Hughes had warned the Secret Service of his intended mission nearly a year prior to the flight, but authorities said they did not believe that he would go forward with the plan. Disappointed that his message has not gotten more attention, Hughes thinks that the security concerns that have surfaced since his landing are exaggerated.

"The security around D.C. is ironclad," he told ABC News. “I seriously suspect that if you were to get into a gyro tomorrow, it wouldn't work.”

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