Friday, June 10, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform: The law of unintended consequences?

Thanks to McCain-Feingold and an activist judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the Federal Election Commission is looking into regulating free political speech on the Internet. As those of you that frequent my corner of the blogosphere know, I have been posting on this for some time now. I have called attention to this potential travesty every where I can. I happened on this commentary by Mark Alexander over at He gives a little more insight to the judges decision and mandate to the FEC.

"Then the reformers struck again. The boondoggling duo of McCain and Feingold sued the FEC, insisting that regulations on political speech did in fact apply to the Internet and to e-mail. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed: "The commission's exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated-communications regulation severely undermines" the purpose of the campaign-finance law. The Commission's three Republicans couldn't convince any of the three Democrats to appeal the ruling, with the net result being that Big Brother is on his way to policing the cybersphere.

Under the law, which the FEC will have to enforce if Congress does not intervene, even a link to a candidate's website will be considered a political contribution. While the value of such a "contribution" remains uncertain, Bradley Smith, one of the FEC's three Republican commissioners, warns that FEC regulatory precedents don't bode well for the blogosphere. "Corporations aren't allowed to donate to campaigns," notes Smith. "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."

Sound bad? That's not all, warns Smith. "The judge's decision is in no way limited to ads. She says that any coordinated activity over the Internet would need to be regulated, as a minimum. The problem with coordinated activity over the Internet is that it will strike, as a minimum, Internet reporting services.""

This is interesting as both McCain and Feingold are on record as saying that they are opposed to any regulation of the blogs. Feingold went so far as to post his opinions on a blog. What exactly will be considered coordinated activity? If I post a link to another blog because it has a link to a candidates site, is that coordinated activity?

"This week's "Alpha Jackass" award:

"Some will argue that the First Amendment of the Constitution renders unlawful any restrictions on the right of anyone to raise unlimited amounts of money for political campaigns. Mr. President, which drafter of the Constitution believed or anticipated that the First Amendment would be exercised in political campaigns by the relatively few at the expense of the many?" --John McCain, March 2001

The big lie...

"To permit an entire class of political communications to be completely unregulated irrespective of the level of coordination between the communication's publisher and a political party or federal candidate, would permit an evasion of campaign finance laws." --U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruling on the regulation of the Internet, ordering the FEC to revise its rules"

What the judge is really saying is that the First Amendment does not apply to the Internet, as least as she sees it under McCain-Feingold. Free political speech is a founding tenet of this country. SCOTUS was very remiss in not over turning McCain-Feingold. It is now up to the Congress to get up off their collective asses and enact legislation that keeps the First Amendment right of bloggers intact. Any legislation needs to be very specific and not open to any outlandish interpretation by the courts. - Sailor

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