Portman, McCaskill Announce Effort to Hold Backpage.com in Contempt of Congress

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
MEDIA CONTACTS: Kevin Smith (Portman) | 202-224-5190

John LaBombard (McCaskill) | 202-228-6263 

Portman, McCaskill Announce Effort to Hold Backpage.com in Contempt of Congress

Investigation Into Online Sex Trafficking Will Continue 

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced that they will take legal action to enforce a subpoena they issued to the online marketplace Backpage.com as part of their bipartisan investigation of online sex trafficking.  In their roles as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Portman and McCaskill issued a subpoena to Backpage.com for documents about the company’s business practices, particularly how it screens advertisements for warning signs of sex trafficking.  Because Backpage has refused to comply with that subpoena, Portman and McCaskill will introduce a Senate resolution to hold the company in civil contempt and force Backpage to turn over documents about its screening practices.  The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will vote on the resolution on Wednesday.  If adopted by the full Senate as expected, this will be the first time in more than 20 years that the Senate has held anyone in contempt. 

With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, Backpage is a market leader in commercial-sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including trafficking of children.  In a bipartisan staff report issued two months ago, the Subcommittee revealed evidence that Backpage has had a practice of editing advertisements before they are posted by deleting certain words and phrases, which likely served to conceal illegality.  The subpoena seeks more information about that practice, but Backpage has refused to turn over documents. 

“We began this bipartisan investigation over nine months ago to tackle the growing problem of sex trafficking on the Internet.  We have given Backpage.com every opportunity to comply with a lawful subpoena, but they have continued to stonewall,” said Portman and McCaskill in a joint statement.  “Backpage.com’s ongoing obstruction of this investigation will not be tolerated.  It is vital that Congress learns how human trafficking occurs on the Internet and what can be done to stop it.  That’s why we are offering a resolution to pursue contempt against Backpage and compel its cooperation with our subpoena.” 

Additional information about tomorrow’s hearing can be found below: 

Where:            Senate Dirksen 342

What:              Mark-up on Contempt Resolution Re: Backpage.com – Senate  Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs.

Where:            Wednesday, February 10 at 10AM

Background documents:

The Subcommittee’s bipartisan report is here.

The link to the November 19 hearing is here