Baronger's Scribblings

Friday, March 04, 2005

FEC update

The Campaign Legal Center responds. The Blogstorm, well actually it's more of a sudden shower right now. The Center is trying to make sure that a tempest doesn't happen, and it will be just a light drizzle.

The issue the FEC - and the courts - are grappling with is how to deal with online political ads by candidates and parties, and with paid advertising that is coordinated with those groups. As the Internet becomes a vital new force in politics, we are simply going through a natural transition as we work out how, and when, to apply longstanding campaign finance principles - designed to fight corruption - to political expenditures on the Web. Mr. Smith has advocated an extreme position that politicians, parties and outside groups can pay for Internet advertising with "soft money" - unlimited, unregulated checks from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. A federal court rightly rejected that position, saying that the new ban on soft money in our elections obviously applies to Internet advertising, too.

These laws are decidedly NOT aimed at online press, commentary or blogs, and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was carefully drafted to exclude them. The FEC has now been asked to initiate a rule-making to work out how to deal with different kinds of Internet political expenditures, and there will be plenty of opportunity for public commentary. The Commission's duty then will be to distinguish candidate and party expenditures, and coordinated independent expenditures, on the Internet (which should be subject to campaign finance law like any other expenditures) from activity by bloggers, Internet news services and citizens acting on their own that should remain unregulated, free and robust.

The problem of course is where the burden of proof is going to lie. The FEC model appears to demand that any ads be regulated. With the IRS the burden of proof is on the tax payer. If I create such links as this and that, do I have to prove that I wasn't paid create them. Do I need to have a legal disclaimer that any ads, I have on my site have not been paid for. Where does this leave the buttons that many bloggers, put up linking back to candidates sites. These are created both by amateurs and the candidates staff themselves. They are offered for free, and are similar to pin buttons and bumper stickers. Hopefully they consider volunteer activity by bloggers as free voluntary service, performed without financial motive. However, we are already regulated in how much we can donate, there is always the danger that we will be regulated in how much we can blog. Remember political blogs can be the equivilant of small unregistered 527's.

The Captain has sent an open letter to congress. I think we are more at the, "ask probing questions" of the FEC for now. The FEC does not itself have a press release on this issue. Yet there are attempts to toss oil on this stormy sea. Yet the key fact remains that, this was caused by comments made by the Chairman of the FEC. I would like to hear from some of the other members of the board. The key fact remains, that government can make some incredibly stupid decisions. If that wasn't true then why else would we need the Supreme Court.

So did Mr. Smith misspeak, and exaggerate his claims? Nothing has been settled yet, however three of the commissioners seem concerned. I expect to see an FEC press release next week sometime. This hasn't yet been picked up by the MSM, and if nothing else major happens will wind up as a political button. We just have to see if the FEC, pushes that button and ignites a blogstorm when they finally decide on the rules. The bigger question though is can blogs and the internet even be regulated. Totalitarian states have tried, can a democracy be more effective?

If a blog is a political action committee of one, that encourages donations; and promotes a candidates causes will the FEC regulate it. If the blogger has a tip jar, which in effect encourages people to donate money so that the blog can continue does it have to be reported. If I support Condi in 2008, will I have to register as a 527.

Edit: The Professor weighs in, while for the Captain it's still anchors aweigh. According to the Professor, this is just a continuation of a smear campaign against Smith. What we need is for the other members to present their views. This is going on the backburner, where it can be watched and the heat turned up if need be.



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