Bradley Smith says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over.
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.
Now, I was doing my usual “cut and paste” of the article and realized I was just about to pretty much post the whole thing, so go check it out yourself, very interesting stuff and certainly things that anyone that writes online needs to be aware of. But before your blood boils too much, keep in mind this part of the article (towards the end):
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.
One of the reasons it’s a good time to (fix this) now is you don’t know who’s benefiting. Both the Democrats and Republicans used the Internet very effectively in the last campaign.
What would you like to see happen?
I’d like someone to say that unpaid activity over the Internet is not an expenditure or contribution, or at least activity done by regular Internet journals, to cover sites like CNET, Slate and Salon. Otherwise, it’s very likely that the Internet is going to be regulated, and the FEC and Congress will be inundated with e-mails saying, “How dare you do this!”
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.
If Congress doesn’t change the law, what kind of activities will the FEC have to target?
We’re talking about any decision by an individual to put a link (to a political candidate) on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet.
First, I give the guy a lot of credit for calling this partisan outright. He’s not hiding it and that’s good, that makes me think he’s trying to be honest with us about the issue and that’s what we need. It’s also probably him covering his ass, he knows there’ll be heat for this and he can limit this by not shrouding it as something else.
Second, he tells us outright a proper solution to the issue, get Congress to clear up the statute. So grassroots Internet activity has a means of keeping themselves in the clear, petition your representatives in Congress.
In the end, this is simply the FEC having to enforce laws given to them based on a judicial interpretation. They are simply doing their jobs. It’s just bad law.