Friday, March 4, 2005

Bloggers May Be Stifled By Campaign Finance Law

There's some scary news for bloggers in this article:
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.

I've read the whole piece several times and I still don't get it. How can a campaign finance law which was supposed to restrict contributions from corporations be used to stifle free speech of private citizens? It doesn't make any sense and yet that's what it seems to be saying.

I'm reading between the lines and I keep seeing this:

Freedom of Speech is a thing of the past ... From now on, all political opinions are going to be assigned cash values, and there's a limit on how much you can spend ... So if you think you can send e-mail to a bunch of your friends and say: "Here's the candidate I support and this is why and here's a link to his website", you may be badly mistaken ... Even though sending e-mail is basically free and having an opinion is of absolutely no cash value, sending somebody else that opinion via e-mail may soon be a regulated activity -- because of Campaign Finance Laws."

Here's another interesting excerpt:

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.

Corporations aren't allowed to donate to campaigns. Suppose a corporation devotes 20 minutes of a secretary's time and $30 in postage to sending out letters for an executive. As a result, the campaign raises $35,000. Do we value the violation on the amount of corporate resources actually spent, maybe $40, or the $35,000 actually raised? The commission has usually taken the view that we value it by the amount raised. It's still going to be difficult to value the link, but the value of the link will go up very quickly.

What does this have to do with private citizens expressing their points of view on the internet? Corporations are not allowed to donate to campaigns, and that's fine with me. So go away and enforce that law. Hammer on that hypothetical corporation for spending the secretary's time and postage to support a candidate. Fine. That's the very thing that corporations are not supposed to do.

And now what? Suppose they do it anyway. What then? Take away freedom of expression from private individuals who write blogs? It makes no sense. And that's what makes me think it's real.

Because current political reality makes no sense. We live in a society where all the conservatives (or at least all the Republicans) seem to be saying the same thing, and all the liberals (or at least most of the Democrats) seem to be saying all kinds of different things, and yet whenever I read a right-wing blogger he's ranting because liberals want to make everybody think the same things. It makes no sense to me; probably because I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid.

I just finished reading a conservative blogger who said that liberals are in favor of death, and he was talking about abortion. Of course there was no mention of the wars that conservatives are so busy supporting. You want to talk about death? Take a look at Fallujah!! How hypocritical can you get? Oh yeah, I almost forgot. There's no limit.

But back to the article. Here's the closing paragraph:
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.

Say what, Jack? It's going to be bizarre? It's bizarre already, don't you think?

Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe it's not bizarre at all, and it only seems that way. Have a look at the article yourself, and see if you think I have this all wrong.

All comments are welcome, by the way. Whether you agree with me or not, if you have something to contribute, I'll be happy to hear from you.