Friday, March 04, 2005

Michael: The death of political blogging?

Blogging is a new medium of personal expression and communication, deserving of protection by the First Amendment. Part and parcel of the freedom to communicate via the Internet is the right to political advocacy. But that freedom is now in question as the applicability of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms to the internet, and thus to blogs such as this one, are being re-examined.

Last year a federal court overturned the Federal Election Commission’s decision to exclude the Internet from McCain-Feingold regulation. The court rightly found that such a broad exclusion undermined the intent of Congress in passage of that law. Obviously, a substantial, and exponentially increasing, amount of money is spent by campaigns online. But will we quash free political speech as we attempt to regulate Internet campaigns?

The reason political advocacy on the Internet, including blogging, and even forwarding political email, are under threat is the federal government’s legal definition of who qualifies as ‘the press’. The press will almost certainly be excluded from any regulation of Internet communications as in-kind campaign contributions. Regular periodicals, newspapers, and broadcasters are already considered the press, and the web sites and email lists they maintain as part of their regular business operations would almost certainly not be regulated. Can you imagine the FEC trying to fine the New York Times for failure to report an in-kind contribution because a link to a candidate’s web site was included in one of their stories?

But what about personal blogs, email, or homepages that link to a candidate’s site, advocate their election, or attempt to raise funds that are not the press - like this one? The FEC could decide my advocacy is a contribution and regulate my speech. I don’t have a lobby to protect my interests, or the revenue to hire a lawyer. And it is becoming harder to draw a line between the press and a blog like this one. The Arizona Daily Star recently started publishing contributions from local blogs. If The Star decided to publish this post, would a URL to a candidate’s web site in this post be an in-kind contribution by a blogger, or the editorial content of the press?

Many bloggers fear that no distinction will be made between people like me, who feel strongly and devote their time and energy to communicating a viewpoint, and hired consultants and operatives, paid to create online propaganda for a candidate. The former is a highly-protected fundamental right, the latter is only advertising. This issue is being decided now, and citizens should be heard regarding that decision.

UPDATE: Seems Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) agrees with me on this one.


At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a problem that needs to be thought about vary seriously, hou do we make our voice heard in this climet of republican control of most speach mediums.I beleave that we who are truly concerned should BUY control a TV station and a major news paper so thay WE can get (OUR) the thuth out about how things realy are in the USA. I am more than willing to contribute and I beleave that there are many more that would. Does this seem logical or am I lust dreaming.


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