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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Conservative Leaders to FEC: Hands Off Our Blogs!

Here's the best recommendation I've heard yet for what the FEC should do with its proposal to regulate political speech on the Internet:

"The Commission should announce that its fact-finding hearings have convinced it that Internet regulation is simply not possible and that its respect for the First Amendment rights of American citizens demands that it refrain from trying to do so."

That's from a letter to FEC Chairman Scott Thomas co-signed by a smart bunch of leaders of conservative activist and advocacy groups. I don't know if my calls for Conservatives to Wake Up to the various threats to the First Amendment had anything to do with this particular effort but I am cheering it on and hoping it will be followed by many more.

Congratulations to English First head Jim Boulet Jr. for organizing the letter to the FEC. You can read the entire letter here.

Hat Tip to Amy Ridenour for bringing the letter to the Blogosphere's attention.

Also, The Washington Post updates the FEC issue this morning with a nicely balanced piece by free lancer Brian Faler that includes this excellent quote from liberal blogger Duncan Black:

"I'm troubled by the fact that participants in this emerging medium, which allows anyone the opportunity to participate in the national political discourse at a minimum cost, would face stricter regulation and stronger scrutiny, along with the potential for ruinous legal expenses -- than would participants in media outlets owned by large corporations such as Time Warner, General Electric and Disney."

Black edits Eschaton.com.

Faler quotes Mike Krempasky of RedState.org, who more than anyone else I know of in the Blogosphere has labored to alert people about the threat embodied in the FEC proposal: "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?"

Perhaps most significantly, Faler notes that Democrat FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub may be getting the message:
"The commission, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and needs a majority vote to approve new policy, is expected to decide the issue this fall. Ellen L. Weintraub, one of the Democratic commissioners, said the FEC appears to have all but decided against regulating bloggers and is now hashing out what, if anything, it needs to do to protect them against government oversight. The FEC could give all bloggers the media exemption, or it could massage other provisions in the law to provide what some said would amount to similar protections."

Go here for the full Post piece.

After you read that, go here where Democracy Project's Win Myers shows once again why the Blogosphere is so often a more accurate and trustworthy news source than the MSM. He notes that Post free lancer Faler is still quoting people who favor FEC regulation of political speech on the Internet without identifying their fundamental conflicts of interests on the issue.

This time around Faler quotes Carol Darr of the Institute of Politics, Democracy and the Internet. Who is Darr? Myers explains what Faler left out, thus cheating Post readers of the full story: " Who funds IPDI? You guessed it: Pew. Who helps run IPDI? Sean Treglia and Larry Noble, both of whom sit on IPDI's board."

Why is that significant? Because Treglia is the former Pew program officer who let the cat out of the bag by telling a group of journalists that his former employer spent millions of dollars in grants designed to make it appear campaign finance reform enjoyed broad public support. that is called "astroturfing." Read Myers' complete post to get the details.

And why do the Post editors continue to cheat their readers of the full story by using this guy Faler?

Mention of FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub reminds me of The Captain's response earlier this year to her attempts to reassure everybody that nobody at her agency really wants to stifle political speech on the internet:

"Allow me to blow a few holes through the 'trust us' scenarios Weintraub paints here. First, although bloggers may not make significant money now, that may well change in the next two or four years. (I know, I know ... wishful thinking.) If campaigns start spending heavy money on buying ads on blogs such as CQ, will they start accusing me of coordination when I link back to their sites in my posts?
"What happens if a national campaign hires me as a political analyst? Of course, I would immediately disclose that on my blog, but I would want to use CQ without affiliation, meaning that I would likely post on a variety of topics without involving a specific candidate. Does my right to free speech suddenly get diminished because I work for a candidate? (This scenario doesn't just apply to the Internet, for that matter.)
"Here's another scenario that comes from my real-life experience from the last election. I cross-posted many of my essays at
Blogs For Bush, without a doubt a site dedicated to promoting one particular candidate. If I participate on B4B by cross-posting my CQ posts, and B4B winds up being considered a campaign site for the purpose of regulation, how does that affect CQ? The overall effect of such power to regulate the medium, even if the power remains sheathed, is to intimidate people into withdrawing their participation.
"Weintraub may not have the appetite to draw up these kinds of regulations -- for now -- but the next set of FEC commissioners might, especially if Congressional incumbents see bloggers as a threat. The only long-term solution is the repeal of the BCRA and the erosion of First Amendment freedoms it imposes on political speech in America."

You can go here to re-read the whole post from The Captain.

Speaking as a former reporter and editor at The Washington Times (in the interest of full disclosure, you see!), I hope you will also check out this note about now-former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith's relationship, or lack thereof, with Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and Political-Speech-Regulator-in-Chief. From "Inside Politics" and John McCaslin. Hat Tip to Paul Mirengoff at Powerline. Yes, I know that makes it, what fourth-hand, but I know McCaslin and I know Paul, so trust me, this is solid.