The YDD Annex

Because One Blog Is Never Enough

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bloglines On Possible FEC Blog Regulations

You knew I had to post something political sooner or later... in this case, political but not partisan. Well, not too partisan...

Mark Fletcher, founder etc. etc. of Bloglines, the aggregator service I occasionally use, just testified before the Committee on House Administration about the FEC's review of whether or under what circumstances blogs should fall under campaign finance regulation. What he says is short and sensible; here's an excerpt:

We urge Congress and the FEC to ensure that the Internet, particularly blog activity, remains free from campaign finance regulation. While regulation of campaign financing plays an important role in maintaining public confidence in our political system, we believe the significant public policy interests in encouraging the Internet as a forum for free or low-cost speech and open information exchange should stand paramount.

Linking to campaign websites, quoting from or republishing campaign materials and even providing a link for donations to a candidate, if done without compensation, should not result in a blog being deemed to have made a contribution to a campaign or trigger reporting requirements.

Blogs permit the expression of and access to a diversity of political opinions and other information on a scale never before seen. This speech must remain free and not be discouraged by burdensome regulation. As such, it should be explicit that the activities of bloggers are covered by the press exemption of Sections 100.73 and 100.132.

Just so. My feelings about campaign finance regulations have always been mixed, in part because it is clear that the party of wealth will never allow a legal distinction between spending and speech. Of course the purported equivalency (most conservatives reference Buckley v. Valeo) is absurd; speech is speech and spending is spending. But as long as the alleged equivalency is made, there will be attempts to abuse the regulations to favor one party and suppress another. Guess which is which.

Democrats got pretty good at using the blogosphere in 2004 to connect the rank and file to candidates' campaigns, in some cases with substantial direct participation in campaigns (e.g., Kos) and in some cases just links to campaign and party sites (e.g., the YDD). Republicans have a lot more money, but were not in my opinion as sophisticated in their use of the right blogosphere... a well-oiled message machine, but not so much an effective campaign tool... as the Democratic Party and its candidates were in using the center-left blogosphere.

The Dems' success in fundraising etc. via the blogosphere provides an irresistible temptation to executive branch Republicans to squelch speech on blogs to shut down the Dems' source of funds by claiming a violation of campaign finance laws. Ultimately, though, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and the First Amendment is part of the Constitution. Suppressing Democratic speech about fundraising is unconstitutional.

The campaign finance laws contain a journalist exception. I've often said that bloggers by and large are not journalists, but for purposes of campaign finance law, the distinction is without a difference. Bloggers intend to convey information and opinion to the public. They must be allowed to do so unfettered by restrictions intended to cover baldfaced monetary influence of campaigns by interest groups. Any regulation of such is an infringment of free speech. Period.

And now we return to my regularly scheduled Rita recovery...


  • At 9/25/2005 6:36 PM, Blogger Bryan said…

    My view of what bloggers do is more analogous to homeowners who put up a lawn sign, i.e. it is a private, uncompensated action.

  • At 9/25/2005 9:20 PM, Blogger andante said…

    I see it as very similar to writing a letter to the editor of our local news-rag. Does the FEC really want to go there?

  • At 9/25/2005 11:09 PM, Blogger Steve Bates said…

    Good analogies, Bryan and andante. andante, I have no doubt the FEC wants to go there, and I am equally certain we do not want them to.

    I am rather adamant about the freedom to blog. Say it is protected by the First Amendment as speech, or by the Ninth Amendment as one of those unenumerated rights; either way, it is protected. Even paid political operatives should be given wide latitude in the context of their blogs, especially their personal blogs. Anything less risks infringment of free speech in the acknowledged context in which it is most protected. We must not allow the FEC or anyone else to set up "free speech zones" in the blogosphere. I cannot emphasize the importance of this too much; it is essential to the survival of our democracy.


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