Friday, November 04, 2005

The Blogosphere Under Siege

The House today, with bipartisan support, passed a bill that would exempt bloggers from FEC campaign finance regulations. It passed 225-182, 47 votes shy of a clear two-thirds majority that would have allowed it to pass under the rules in play. For all intents and purposes, "the vote in effect clears the way for the FEC to move ahead with court-mandated rule-making to govern political speech and campaign spending on the Internet."

Newsflash to the Congress: This is tyranny. The campaign finance laws wear never meant to go this far. Bloggers for all sides of the political spectrum are up in arms over this, and rightly so. The story continues (hat tip: Yahoo):

Opposition was led by Rep. Marty Meehan (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., who with Rep. Christopher Shays (news, bio, voting record), R-Conn., championed the 2002 campaign finance law that banned unlimited "soft money" contributions that corporations, unions and individuals were making to political parties.

"This is a major unraveling of the law," Meehan said. At a time when Washington is again being tainted by scandal, including the CIA leak case, "it opens up new avenues for corruption to enter the political process."

Actually, what it does is in effect allow the government to regulate what bloggers can say and link to.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, said the federal government should encourage, rather than fetter, a phenomenon that was bringing more Americans into the political process.

"The newest battlefield in the fight to protect the First Amendment is the Internet," he said. "The Internet is the new town square, and campaign finance regulations are not appropriate there."

Without his legislation, Hensarling said, "I fear that bloggers one day could be fined for improperly linking to a campaign Web site, or merely forwarding a candidate's press release to an e-mail list."

Exactly right. The broad powers the government would have in this regard are so open to abuse that on its face it's a bad deal. However, Meehan and Shays disagree:

But Meehan said no one wants to regulate bloggers. He said he and Shays have an alternative that would protect the free speech rights of bloggers while closing the cyberspace loophole where a lawmaker could vote for a prescription drug bill and then ask pharmaceutical interests to write six-figure checks for campaign ads for them to run on the Internet.

I'd sure love to see how they're going to reconcile that with the Constitution. They'd better come up with something quick. BTW, it shouldn't be lost on people how much bipartisan support this bill had:

Bloggers from liberal and conservative perspectives made similar predictions at a hearing on the subject in September. "Rather than deal with the red tape of regulation and the risk of legal problems, they will fall silent on all issues of politics," said Michael J. Krempasky, director of the Web site

and this:

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada has introduced a companion bill to the Hensarling measure, but the Senate has yet to take it up.

This is one of those issues you have to draw the line on. Congress needs to make this right. House members and Senators, of either party, who support the curtailing of free speech of the blogosphere, be ye warned: Elections are coming up real soon.

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