These judges, commissioners, and advocacy groups are not Republican
by Jerome Armstrong, Thu Mar 03, 2005 at 05:03:15 AM EST
In just a few months, he 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.CNET News.com spoke with Smith about the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as the McCain-Feingold law, and its forthcoming extrusion onto the Internet. Here's the link to their interview: The coming crackdown on blogging.
...How can the government place a value on a blog that praises some politician?
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 [Democratic-appointed, I would add] would have us move in....
How do you see this playing out?
There's sensitivity in the commission on this. But remember the commission's decision to exempt the Internet only passed by a 4-2 vote. This time, we couldn't muster enough votes to appeal the judge's decision. We appealed parts of her decision, but there were only three votes to appeal the Internet part (and we needed four). There seem to be at least three commissioners who like this.
Then this is a partisan issue?
Yes, it is at this time. But I always point out that partisan splits tend to reflect ideology rather than party. I don't think the Democratic commissioners are sitting around saying that the Internet is working to the advantage of the Republicans.Dammit, how can this be? The Republicans are on the right side of this issue. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, in citing Smith, is the ignorant tool of clueless advocacy groups in DC. Even Smith himself now recognizes the folly here.
What happens next?
It's going to be a battle, and if nobody in Congress is willing to stand up and say, "Keep your hands off of this, and we'll change the statute to make it clear," then I think grassroots Internet activity is in danger.Well then, someone in Congress needs speak out a clue to the FEC, and it's not the Republicans!
Update (Chris): I've called Democracy 21 about this, and I talked to two people asking what online activities would be affected by this ruling. They gave my number to the President of the organization and said he would get back to me. I should have more on this either today or tomorrow.