Friday, September 23, 2005

The FEC and Bloggers: Stay Tuned

McQ of QandO says: "In between the bookend hurricanes, the FEC still has bloggers in its focus." In the linked story, Federal Election Commission vice-chairman Michael Toner
argued that political activity on the Internet fails to meet the campaign finance law's threshold to stop corruption or the appearance of corruption. Toner urged Congress to pass a law that pre-empts the court's action and ensures that the Internet remains exempt from campaign finance rules.
Scott E. Thomas, the FEC [chairman], said his agency's original exemption for the Internet was a mistake and the FEC should come up with rules for Internet campaign ads in light of the $14 million spent on Internet ads in the 2004 campaign.

Thomas said Congress should hold off on any legislation until the FEC acts.

Another commissioner, Ellen Weintraub, said the agency preferred a "less is more" approach.

"This is appropriate because the focus of the FEC is campaign finance," she said. "We are not the speech police."

Glad to hear it, but the FEC is currently acting under an order from U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, which struck down the FEC regulations that had allowed those advertising on the Internet to avoid many of the requirements of McCain-Feingold. And so, if the judge has her way and you say anything positive about a candidate, or negative about the candidate's opponent, you might be found to have given a campaign contribution in kind to the candidate. Then the FEC could have its way with you.

Thanks a bunch, judge. Also thanks a bunch to U.S. Reps. Christopher Shays and Marty Meehan, who brought the suit against the FEC, and to those great defenders of freedom of speech, Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, who filed an amicus brief in support of Shays and Meehan. What those paragons of liberty and their brethren in Congress want is for all of us to shut up, because silence favors incumbents.

What should happen is this: When the U.S. Supreme Court has its full complement of justices, some persons with standing (bloggers among them) would file a challenge McCain-Feingold. The challenge by Senator Mitch McConnell failed in part because he was deemed to lack standing, but it failed mainly because of the Court's balance. Chief Justice Rehnquist wasn't a wholly reliable support of free speech; Justice O'Connor is even less so. Two new justices, Roberts and ?, could swing the balance back toward freedom of speech.

But no matter how it comes out, they'll have to pry this blog from my cold, dead hands.