Thursday, March 03, 2005


Controlling politics on the internet: A Must-Read

I've been expecting the government to attempt to control the internet, but wasn't sure of the mechanism. It seems that it may be through the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, if Declan McCullagh's interview with Bradley Smith of the Federal Election Commission is to be believed.

Some low points of the story—

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.

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.

Since this is coming from a Republican commissioner, I presume there is a hidden agenda here. One of them is not too difficult to spot—

So if you're using text that the campaign sends you, and you're reproducing it on your blog or forwarding it to a mailing list, you could be in trouble?

Yes. In fact, the regulations are very specific that reproducing a campaign's material is a reproduction for purpose of triggering the law. That'll count as an expenditure that counts against campaign finance law. [emphasis in original]

This certainly describes Jeff Gannon/James Guckert's reporting for Talon News. But Talon News is not a blog. According to the White House, Talon News is a legitimate news organization.

Nevertheless, it is clear that there is serious confusion as to the nature of blogs, what constitutes "publishing" and a host of other questions. And it is a confusion that cynics on both sides of the political aisle will seek to exploit.

This is a topic to watch!

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