Are Some Blogging Freedoms Going To Be Curtailed?
Is there an impending crackdown on blogging?
Blogging has become the unpoliced Wild West of political ideas. Due to campaign financing rulings, will the Federal Election Commission become involved?
The answer is: the FEC is ALREADY revving up to start to the tricky task of regulating some aspects of blogging — and the tipoff comes in an interview CNET News conducted with FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith.
Writes CNET: “..the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over.” What’s likely to happen?
In just a few months, he (Bradley) 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.
May we use the phrase “slippery slope?”
Once the FEC starts clamping down on some aspects of weblogs, where does it end? And will any clampdown be applied fairly — to blogs on the left, right…even center? Or will new clampdowns spark charges of the issue becoming a political football — a new source of controversy?
Will this also be applied to weblogs that are perhaps linked to special interest groups promoting or opposing key issues?
The CNET interview with Bradley (who clearly does not relish what the FEC is going to have to do to resolve the issue) almost resembles a multi-path ski-slope of slippery slopes. Read it in its entirety. Here’s one section where Bradley discusses what would change:
The commission has generally been hands-off on the Internet. We’ve said, “If you advertise on the Internet, that’s an expenditure of money–much like if you were advertising on television or the newspaper.”
Do we give bloggers the press exemption? The real question is: Would a link to a candidate’s page be a problem? If someone sets up a home page and links to their favorite politician, is that a contribution? This is a big deal, if someone has already contributed the legal maximum, or if they’re at the disclosure threshold and additional expenditures have to be disclosed under federal law.
Certainly a lot of bloggers are very much out front. Do we give bloggers the press exemption? If we don’t give bloggers the press exemption, we have the question of, do we extend this to online-only journals like CNET?
How would you place a value on a blog praising a politico?
How do we measure that? Design fees, that sort of thing? The FEC did an advisory opinion in the late 1990s (in the Leo Smith case) that I don’t think we’d hold to today, saying that if you owned a computer, you’d have to calculate what percentage of the computer cost and electricity went to political advocacy.
It seems absurd, but that’s what the commission did. And that’s the direction Judge Kollar-Kotelly would have us move in. Line drawing is going to be an inherently very difficult task. And then we’ll be pushed to go further. Why can this person do it, but not that person?
There’s a ton more but this is clear: there is a real possibility that bloggers (of all parties) will have considerably less freedom in 2006 and 2008 as a sheriff comes to Cybertown.