Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Liberals Want to Shut Up Bloggers

Several months ago, we discussed the fact that the Democratic commissioners on the Federal Election Commission want to regulate blogs.

And we recently discussed an assertion by Journal-Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane, who said:
. . . I predict the legal system eventually will step in to restrain some of the more outrageous commentary sent out over the blogosphere.
Now reasononline discusses a disturbing but not surprising fact: liberal Democrats want to regulate blogs:

I was reminded of that neat bit of self-delusion yesterday when reading news that House Democrats had followed The New York Times’ odious advice to kill the Online Freedom of Speech Act, which would have exempted weblogs from Federal Election Commission campaign finance rules. Once again, the party supported by people who truly do believe they and they alone care deeply about free speech has casually stomped on the freedom to speak.

The bill itself would have placed an extra layer of statutory protection over what should already be (but isn’t) protected by the First Amendment—the right to buy political advertisements online. As the mess of appalling FEC rules currently stand, nobody can legally purchase a broadcast, satellite, or cable advertisement that even mentions a candidate for federal office within 60 days of a general election (30 days for a primary), unless he or she sets up or joins a political action committee (PAC) and agrees to abide by the heavy regulations that govern PACs’ funding and disclosure.

Now, under pressure from crusading campaign-finance Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), the FEC is finalizing rules that could mean the restriction not only of online advertisements, but of e-mail lists, partisan blogging, and potentially even hyperlinking. The Online Freedom of Speech bill, sponsored by Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling and co-sponsored by three Democrats and six Republicans (including Jeff Flake and Ron Paul), would have amended the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 “to exclude communications over the Internet from the definition of public communication,” essentially making the Internet off-limits to the FEC. Because the measure was not brought up under normal House rules, it required a two-thirds majority for passage, but fell 46 votes short, 225-182. Democrats voted nay, 143 to 46.

“The bill that we are considering will . . . allow political parties to use soft money to pay for Internet ads bashing candidates,” warned Massachusetts Democrat Martin Meehan. (Horrors!) “I am a friend of the Internet. In fact, I sponsored legislation that would exempt bloggers from FEC legislation. But the issue is how we draw the lines to balance. We do not exempt the Internet from laws controlling child pornography; we do not allow child pornography on the Internet. We do not exempt the Internet from consumer safety laws. We do not exempt the Internet from intellectual property or copyright laws. We do not because we think those laws are important.”

I think this quote speaks volumes about some Democrats’ Mel Stuart–like internal dissonance on the First Amendment. I am a friend of free speech, they assure us at every turn, but we need to draw lines, because when yucky people spend money to communicate a political message through the news media, it’s just like child pornography, reckless endangerment, and intellectual property theft. Combine this attitude with a general cluelessness about the unintended speech-impairing consequences of FEC rule-making, and you get the obscene sight of the New York Times editorial board, which bathed itself and Judith Miller in the holy waters of the First Amendment in 15 different editorials, arguing with a straight face that “The bill uses freedom of speech as a fig leaf.”

Note that if some political campaign uses its money to buy ads on a blog, this expenditure is regulated like any other campaign expenditure. The blog that sells the ad is just like any other media outlet, whether it be the New York Times or a student run radio station.

The issue, unfortunately, is whether bloggers who choose to support or promote a certain candidate will find that their support for a particularly candidate will count as a “contribution” just as though the blogger had given money to the candidate.

Thus, if we say good things about a Republican candidate, and bad things about his or her Democratic opponent, the Federal Election Commission might consider this a “campaign contribution” on our part.

This could be an issue if the campaign fails to “disclose” our contribution (which the may well not even know about). It could also be an issue if we also gave a monetary contribution to a candidate, and “maxed out” by giving the person the maximum allowed under law. The “contribution” of our blogging support might be considered illegal, since we have exceeded the limit. Or, if we gave no money to the candidate and the value of our support exceeded the amount we can legally give, that might be illegal.

In theory, only “coordinated” support for a campaign is at risk, but the definition of “coordinated” is absurdly broad. Quoting FEC commissioner Bradley Smith, as interviewed by CNET:
CNET: 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?

Smith: 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 pretty hypothetical with regard to this blog, since ours is a modest operation, and the cash value of our support in a campaign is pretty small (although, how does one determine this?). But important national blogs like Powerline and Little Green Footballs might well be stringently regulated as to what they can say.

Yet even modest blogs might be harassed, needing to prove that the cash value of their support for a particular candidate does not exceed any limit.

“But” you might ask, “isn’t a blog like a newspaper or TV network that is free to support or oppose any candidate they want to?”


The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law explicitly exempted the news media from regulation.

But aren’t blogs a form of “news media,” even if often a rather modest form of news media?

Not in the eyes of many liberal Democrats, nor in the eyes of the New York Times.

But why do liberals want to stifle blogs, since there are plenty of liberal blogs, including important national ones like the Daily Kos or Media Matters?

The reason is quite simple. While conservatives don’t have a large absolute advantage in the blogosphere, they have a rather large comparative advantage. That is to say, conservatives are at a huge disadvantage in the mainstream media. But the blogosphere is a much more level playing field. If you are a liberal Democrat, you aren’t used to and don’t particularly relish a level playing field. You’ll tend to view bloggers as suspect and illegitimate, much as you view talk radio (“squawk radio” to liberals).

Thus shutting up (or more likely, just harassing and chilling) blogs will help restore the media landscape to where it was before things began to get uncomfortable for the mainstream media and their liberal Democratic buddies.


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