March 24, 2005

Here's Looking At You


From The Wall Street Journal: McCain-Feingold Online: Will the FEC make bloggers kiss the First Amendment goodbye?.

When it comes to the law of unintended consequences, the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance "reform" is rapidly becoming a legal phenomenon. The latest example comes courtesy of the Federal Election Commission, where officials are being asked to extend the law to the very people it is supposed to empower: individual citizens.

We'd like to say we're surprised, but this was always going to be the end result of a law that naively believed it could ban money from politics. Since 2003, when the Supreme Court upheld it, McCain-Feingold has failed spectacularly in its stated goal of reining in fat-cat donors. Yet its uncompromising language has helped to gag practically every other politically active entity -- from advocacy groups to labor unions. Now the FEC is being asked to censor another segment of society, the millions of individuals who engage in political activity online.

For an idea of how complicated the application of McCain-Feingold to blogs will be, read this article by Richard Hasen: FEC Takes First Stab at Internet Rules: More Clarity Needed. (Via InstaPundit)

But the greater danger of the FEC’s proposals, if enacted as they are, is the additional uncertainty that they would create. For example, consider someone who has a private website or blog that contains occasional political commentary. Suppose the blogger owns the site as a corporation. Corporations cannot engage in certain election-related activities except through a separate political action committee subject to numerous reporting and disclosure requirements. Can the blogger post commentaries calling for the election or defeat of a candidate for President? The draft rules extend the media exemption to news stories, commentaries and editorials appearing over the Internet, but written materials in this category must appear in a “newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication.” It is not clear that a blogger fits into this category, particularly if the blogger does not post regularly.

If free speech was the guiding principle, as it should be, then none of this would be an issue.

UPDATE I -- March 25: PoliPundit has more on the FEC rules. (Via Little Green Footballs)

UPDATE II: From CNET Bloggers narrowly dodge federal crackdown.

When the Federal Election Commission kicked off the process of extending campaign finance rules to the Internet on Thursday, the public document was substantially altered from one prepared just two weeks earlier and reviewed by CNET

The 44-page document, prepared by the FEC general counsel's office and dated March 10, took a radically different approach and would have imposed decades-old rules designed for federal campaigns on many political Web sites and bloggers. examines the March 10 draft of FEC rules. (Via InstaPundit)

Posted by Forkum at March 24, 2005 06:01 PM