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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Get Pissed Off

Get pissed off! This is important.

The McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 (or the Incumbent Politicians' Protection Act), which until now has been used to destroy our First Amendment right to free speech only in television, radio and print, will soon also apply to the blogosphere and message boards. Posters who "improperly link" to a candidate's web site or press release will be nailed with steep fines from the federal government.

Where are we, North Korea? The Founders are rolling in their graves!


The Coming Crackdown on Blogging
By Declan McCullagh

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

pissedIn 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.

...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. The impact would affect e-mail lists, especially if there's any sense that they're done in coordination with the campaign. If I forward something from the campaign to my personal list of several hundred people, which is a great grassroots activity, that's what we're talking about having to look at.

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...

So if you're using text that the campaign sends you, and you're reproducing it on your blog or forwarding it to a mailing list, you could be in trouble?
Yes. In fact, the regulations are very specific that reproducing a campaign's material is a reproduction for purpose of triggering the law. That'll count as an expenditure that counts against campaign finance law.

This is an incredible thicket. If someone else doesn't take action, for instance in Congress, we're running a real possibility of serious Internet regulation. It's going to be bizarre.
Bizarre in a sad, depressing, fascist kind of way, maybe.

Radley Balko:
If there's one thing the blogosphere can agree on -- right, left, and everything in between -- it ought to be this. The idea that my linking to a statement on the Bush or Kerry site counts as a "contribution" is patently ridiculous. And it Smith's right, we could fast reach the point where the only people allowed to express their opinions about politics in print without FEC scrutiny are hard-copy newspapers and magazines.

Congress needs to act. Now. As Smith notes, now is the best time for this to happen. If one side or the other begins to scratch out an advantage, this will quickly become a highly partisan issue. The idea that bloggers and web writers -- who in many ways are modern pampleteers -- should be shut out of the political debate for expressing their opinions online is anathematic to even the most restrictive interpretations of the First Amendment.

It'll be interesting to see how newspaper editorial boards react to this. It'll be a nice test of their real allegiance to free expression.

This is what campaign finance regulation has come to. This is the absurdity of curbing poltical speech in a free soceity when drawn to its logical, foreseabble conclusion.

Get pissed off. This is important.

Try it, and there'll be at least one more criminal they'll have to deal with.

Props: The Agitator, Catallarchy, Flash of Freedom, A Stitch in Haste


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