Saturday, July 02, 2005

FEC Testimony on Blog Regulation

Over at Red State you can see the prepared remarks of one of its founders, Josh Krempasky before the FEC. He testified:

Our current campaign finance regulations touch nearly every area of political participation by associations, corporations, candidates, political parties and individuals. But one group is notably and, for practical purposes, completely exempt – the news media. The Commission is now considering the proper scope of that exemption. As it has asked, “Should the exemption be limited to entities who are media entities and who are covering or carrying a news story, commentary, or editorial?”

With respect, the question properly formed should have been, “can the exemption be limited?” The answer must be an emphatic no. There is no doubt that bloggers are media entities. Nor is there any doubt that the tradition of citizen journalists is a long accepted part of our national culture. From before very founding of our country, individuals and relative unknowns have contributed to this great conversation...

There is no doubt that the Commission recognizes the difficulty in extending the media exemption to these citizen journalists. It is imperative that it does so. What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh’s multimillion dollar talk radio program – but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience? How is the public benefited by allowing CNN to evade regulation while spending corporate dollars to put campaign employees on the airwaves as pundits, while forcing bloggers to scour the Record and read Commission advisory opinions?

Right on. The purpose of McCain Feingold was to tighten the reins on 'soft' contributions, but being written with the classic political world in mind, it creates absurdities when applied to the online world. For instance, when reckoning an online contribution (a link to a campaign web site from one's own blog, for instance) it counts the benefit to the campaign as the contribution, not the actual cost to the blogger. This could amount to a substantial sum to count as a contribution from the blogger which could place him in violation of the contribution limit.

But more concerning than the potentially fixable absurdities in the implementation of McCain Feingold is the specter of government regulation of journalism. Certainly most bloggers are 'amateur' journalists, but when acting in that role, I think most people will agree that they serve the public interest best if treated by the law like journalists rather than like elements of a political campaign. If certain specific egregious abuses of blogger status can be identified and prevented (for instance, writing off an official campaign website's expenses as a blog) that is sensible, but the broadest possible definition of a blog should be applied, to produce what Reagan might have called 'maximum freedom of expression compatible with order.'


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