ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Thanks, McCain...

Thanks to the Campaign Finance Reform act (which wasn't supported by the public, except for those with press passes), the FEC is seeking comments on why it shouldn't also apply to the the internet (and especially weblogs).

Here's the full text of the request for comments...

Here are the key rules that they're thinking about imposing:

Specifically, the Commission proposes to retain a general exclusion of Internet communications from the definition of “public communication,” except for those advertisements where another person or entity has been paid to carry the advertisement on its website, because these communications would constitute “general public political advertising..” [...] Because only Internet communications that constitute “general public political advertising,” as defined by the regulation, would be included in the proposed definition of “public communication,” [...] the Commission anticipates that the proposed definition would have an extremely limited impact, if any, on the use of the Internet by individuals as a means of communicating their political views, obtaining information regarding candidates and elections, and participating in political campaigns.
[...]
Third, the Commission proposes to modify somewhat its rules [...] as to which Internet communications require disclaimers. Political committee websites would continue to need disclaimers. Individuals and entities other than political committees, however, would need to place disclaimers only on paid Internet advertisements if the advertisements either solicit contributions or expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for Federal office.

Now, certainly bloggers like DailyKos et al are troubled by this, since they were bought & paid for by the campaigns (sometimes covertly) in 2004. I'm sure Kos doesn't want to have his site regulated reduce that nice income he got, so there's definitely a personal interest at stake for some blogs. This blog would not be affected, unless the google ads module on the right were to start displaying political ads without my knowledge. However, there is a principle of free speech at question here, regardless of whether it is bought and paid for or the personal rantings of a blogger. I thought McCain-Feingold was unconstitutional as it was passed and signed, and was peeved that the USSC ruled otherwise. So, if you're a blogger and reading this, be sure to send a comment to the FEC to let them know your thoughts. And it seems that some of the Kossacks are coming to this realization as their ability to assist in raising funds for candidates on their blogs, etc may become impacted:
Please understand: there are basically two schools of thought in this area -- there are those who represent either right-wing interests or party establishment interests who believe that campaign finance regulation generally is bad, and that therefore there shouldn't be regulation of the internet; and then there are liberal reform groups and people like Sen. Feingold who believe that campaign finance law can work, and that carefully-crafted regulations can cover the Internet without doing damage to our speech rights.

I started off in the second camp, but I'm increasingly moving to the first, because I fear that clumsily-drafted regulations will destroy what we've all created. For example:
  • is a group blog that discusses federal candidates now a political committee that needs to register with the FEC?
  • if a blogger accepts advertising, does that mean that everything she says about candidates who don't advertise now becomes an in-kind contribution that needs to be filed and disclosed?
  • can a blogger incorporate herself for liability purposes and still freely discuss candidates? will she be forced to do so in an "evenhanded" fashion?
  • can bloggers/readers who work at corporations discuss politics online from work?
  • will we still be able to post anonymously or pseudonymously, or might websites be held liable for (a) posts by campaign staffers that don't disclose their identities or (b) posts by non-US citizens that try to raise money for US candidates?
  • and, for all of these examples, will only the bloggers and posters who can afford to hire attorneys feel free to keep doing what they're doing, becuase of the threat of subpoena and federal investigation?
exactly... you well-meaning Lefties thought you could just restrict free speech and target it so as not to infringe on our rights. Well, that's not exactly easy and the moment you allowed that to happen, you opened the possibility that certain types of speech were no longer appropriate during political campaigns.

Regardless, if they tried to regulate this blog, I'd force them to shut me down or take me to jail... for... political... speech...

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler