Friday, March 04, 2005

Here We Go Again

Back on September 18, in "Time to Regulate the Blogosphere?," I wrote that the thought of regulating the blogosphere
must have crossed the minds of some highly placed Democrat sympathizers in the "mainstream" media when the blogosphere started shredding the threadbare remnants of Dan Rather's reputation for honest reporting. But the blogosphere is protected by the First Amendment, isn't it?

There's stark evidence that the blogosphere can be regulated, if the feds want to do it. Look at the airwaves, which the feds seized long ago, and which the feds censor by intimidation. Look at the ever-tightening federal control of political speech, which has brought us to McCain-Feingold. It's all in the name of protecting us, of course.
I followed that with a post on October 13, in which I quoted from an AP story (link no longer works):
FEC May Regulate Web Political Activity

Oct 13, 7:55 AM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - With political fund raising, campaign advertising and organizing taking place in full swing over the Internet, it may just be a matter of time before the Federal Election Commission joins the action. Well, that time may be now.

A recent federal court ruling says the FEC must extend some of the nation's new campaign finance and spending limits to political activity on the Internet.

Long reluctant to step into online political activity, the agency is considering whether to appeal.

But vice chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said the Internet may prove to be an unavoidable area for the six-member commission, regardless of what happens with the ruling.

"I don't think anybody here wants to impede the free flow of information over the Internet," Weintraub said. "The question then is, where do you draw the line?"...
LGF (via Freespace) now points to this (from CNET

The coming crackdown on blogging

March 3, 2005, 4:00 AM PT
By Declan McCullagh
Staff Writer, CNET

Bradley Smith says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over.

In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines.

Smith should know. He's one of the six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, which is beginning the perilous process of extending a controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet.

In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. "The commission's exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines" the campaign finance law's purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

Smith and the other two Republican commissioners wanted to appeal the Internet-related sections. But because they couldn't get the three Democrats to go along with them, what Smith describes as a "bizarre" regulatory process now is under way.

CNET spoke with Smith about the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as the McCain-Feingold law, and its forthcoming extrusion onto the Internet.

Q: What rules will apply to the Internet that did not before?
A: ...Do we give bloggers the press exemption? If we don't give bloggers the press exemption, we have the question of, do we extend this to online-only journals like CNET?

How can the government place a value on a blog that praises some politician?
...The FEC did an advisory opinion in the late 1990s (in the Leo Smith case) that I don't think we'd hold to today, saying that if you owned a computer, you'd have to calculate what percentage of the computer cost and electricity went to political advocacy.

It seems absurd, but that's what the commission did. And that's the direction Judge Kollar-Kotelly would have us move in....

How about a hyperlink? Is it worth a penny, or a dollar, to a campaign?
I don't know. But I'll tell you this. One thing the commission has argued over, debated, wrestled with, is how to value assistance to a campaign....

Then what's the real impact of the judge's decision?
The judge's decision is in no way limited to ads. She says that any coordinated activity over the Internet would need to be regulated, as a minimum....

(Editor's note: federal law limits the press exemption to a "broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication." )

How do you see this playing out?
There's sensitivity in the commission on this. But remember the commission's decision to exempt the Internet only passed by a 4-2 vote.

This time, we couldn't muster enough votes to appeal the judge's decision. We appealed parts of her decision, but there were only three votes to appeal the Internet part (and we needed four). There seem to be at least three commissioners who like this.

Then this is a partisan issue?
Yes, it is at this time. But I always point out that partisan splits tend to reflect ideology rather than party. I don't think the Democratic commissioners are sitting around saying that the Internet is working to the advantage of the Republicans.

One of the reasons it's a good time to (fix this) now is you don't know who's benefiting. Both the Democrats and Republicans used the Internet very effectively in the last campaign.

What would you like to see happen?
I'd like someone to say that unpaid activity over the Internet is not an expenditure or contribution, or at least activity done by regular Internet journals, to cover sites like CNET, Slate and Salon. Otherwise, it's very likely that the Internet is going to be regulated, and the FEC and Congress will be inundated with e-mails saying, "How dare you do this!"

What happens next?
It's going to be a battle, and if nobody in Congress is willing to stand up and say, "Keep your hands off of this, and we'll change the statute to make it clear," then I think grassroots Internet activity is in danger....

Senators McCain and Feingold have argued that we have to regulate the Internet, that we have to regulate e-mail. They sued us in court over this and they won.

If Congress doesn't change the law, what kind of activities will the FEC have to target?
We're talking about any decision by an individual to put a link (to a political candidate) on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet....

Why wouldn't the news exemption cover bloggers and online media?
Because the statute refers to periodicals or broadcast, and it's not clear the Internet is either of those. Second, because there's no standard for being a blogger, anyone can claim to be one, and we're back to the deregulated Internet that the judge objected to. Also I think some of my colleagues on the commission would be uncomfortable with that kind of blanket exemption....

Imagine that: unregulated political speech. What a concept. Perhaps we need a constitutional amendment to protect it. We could even call it the First Amendment, because of its importance.

God damn McCain, Feingold, Congress, the President, and the U.S. Supreme Court! (Oops, am I allowed to say that?)

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