March 3, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Newsmaker: The coming crackdown on blogging

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The coming crackdown on blogging
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.

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 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.

Q: What rules will apply to the Internet that did not before?
A: The commission has generally been hands-off on the Internet. We've said, "If you advertise on the Internet, that's an expenditure of money--much like if you were advertising on television or the newspaper."

Do we give bloggers the press exemption?

The real question is: Would a link to a candidate's page be a problem? If someone sets up a home page and links to their favorite politician, is that a contribution? This is a big deal, if someone has already contributed the legal maximum, or if they're at the disclosure threshold and additional expenditures have to be disclosed under federal law.

Certainly a lot of bloggers are very much out front. Do we give bloggers the press exemption? If we don't give bloggers the press exemption, we have the question of, do we extend this to online-only journals like CNET?

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 would have us move in. Line drawing is going to be an inherently very difficult task. And then we'll be pushed to go further. Why can this person do it, but not that person?

How about a hyperlink? Is it worth a penny, or a dollar, to a campaign?
I don't know. But I'll tell you this. One thing the commission has argued over, debated, wrestled with, is how to value assistance to a campaign.

Corporations aren't allowed to donate to campaigns. Suppose a corporation devotes 20 minutes of a secretary's time and $30 in postage to sending out letters for an executive. As a result, the campaign raises $35,000. Do we value the violation on the amount of corporate resources actually spent, maybe $40, or the $35,000 actually raised? The commission has usually taken the view that we value it by the amount raised. It's still going to be difficult to value the link, but the value of the link will go up very quickly.

Then what's the real impact of the judge's decision?
The judge's decision is in no way limited to ads. She says that any coordinated activity over the Internet would need to be regulated, as a minimum. The problem with coordinated activity over the Internet is that it will strike, as a minimum, Internet reporting services.

They're exempt from regulation only because of the press exemption. But people have been arguing that the Internet doesn't fit

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False conclusions. We're talking major crap here.
The line, "Bradley Smith says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over.", is just plain garbage. Just because bloggers may someday not be free to link to a candidate's website doesn't mean they will be censored.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This doesn't make sense to me
Far be it for me to get into a political debate, but how is linking to a campaign web site different from volunteering to work for that campaign?

It seems to me that there are millions of people who volunteer to work for a campaign in every election, big and small. How does that relate to donating money to a campaign?

If I volunteer to work for a campaign, does that mean I can't contribute the maximum amount of money as well?
Posted by silksterweb (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Declan's partisanship showing again
You're right... The FEC isn't regulating the Internet, nor is it regulating private bloggers, or folks who state their opinion, or even folks who state their opinion and choose to link to campaign sites. The issue is campaign expenditure that really does seem to be under the party's control, or that effectively constitutes a donation that crosses the campaign limit. If a major contributor puts up a web site (say, let's call it "GOPUSA" or "Talon News") that largely republishes party press releases, then perhaps it is a campaign expenditure.
Posted by fgoldstein (144 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's Next? Ban Bumperstickers?
I fail to see the difference between a link on a web site and a bumpersticker supporting a candidate on a car or placing a sign in my yard. These people are going way to far and moving towards impeding on freedom of expression.
Posted by (274 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Blogga Sierra
I'd love to see Judge Hyphen-Link try to ban me from hyperlinking to a political campaign and discussing the issues in a blog. Are they going to send Gonzales over to torture me if I fail to cease and de-link? No way.

Thumb. Nose.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Don't let 'em!!
If it does actually go as far as bloggers being prevented from linking to a campaign website, then it's simply up to us citizens of this free country to speak up loudly enough to reverse the decision. If this type of censorship takes place and stays in place, then we have only ourselves to blame for being weak, submissive wimps who allow our freedoms to be chipped away little by little.

It's been a problem ever since the establishment of this great nation of ours. Our founding fathers battled it out among themselves, with those on one side fighting for very little government and those on the other side vying for more government. It's the same battleground today, but it sure seems that those who want to control and regulate us to submission are winning their battles through the judges who sit on federal courts. Come on Americans! Don't let 'em!!
Posted by (61 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Complete insanity...
I imagine that somebody standing on a street corner with a sign is contributing at a rate at least equal to the minimum wage and probably more like whatever they actually make per hour. I find it deeply disturbing that they are so concerned about an unregulated internet. Why not regulate the content of phone calls too? I pray that the priciples behind free speech haven't decayed to the point that draconian nonsense like this can actually be considered.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Vigorous enforcement needed
It's an outrage that people can support any candidate they want, without prior authorization. I certainly hope our appointed officials will use all available wiretaps and AI to detect this unacceptable, double-plus-ungood behavior.

At least with TV, they can block such misbehavior with the digital rights enforcement chips going into all tv sets.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I long for America's return
It was only a few years ago that this was a free country with
a Constitution and a Bill of Rights. There are no rights
anymore, and now we see what happens when the soul of a
country is lost: suppression of free speech, indentured
servitude to the credit card companies and the medical/
industrial complex, loss of habeus corpus, destruction of
the environment, the list is endless. These people will stop
at nothing, as evidenced by blatant rigging the electoral

The way things are going, soon TalkBack will be illegal.
Very, very, very, very sad.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: The coming crackdown on blogging
Next will be word of mouth contribution limitations.

Report your neighbor who is in advertising for trying to convince to vote for his/her candidate, illegally.

Guerrilla marketing by an industry insider is actually a service contribution to the candidate's campaign.

At the very least, all neighbors (friends and family, too) must be forced to preface all political statements or participation in discussions or conservations with a disclosure statement that identifies their party registration, cash contributions, and whether their expenditure of hot air has been 'approved by the candidate' they are about to support.

Only seems fair.

Art Keating
Boca Raton, FL
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
blog this!
The Federal Election Commission is reminiscent of a group of squabbling boys, pushing for power and position, at the behest of utter expediency.

Give us a break, Bradley.

Why don't you fellows invade the bingo parlors of America, where real political realities are likely discussed?

How about the office water coolers and lunch rooms across our free, democratic land?

You citizens best hush up. No discussing or promoting politics. And no blogging.

The FEC might be listening.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://*******.com/5e92l" target="_newWindow">http://*******.com/5e92l</a>
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
There Might Be Some Good In This
not that my political principals agree in any way with the article; much less the ludicrousness of what the is said by the interviewee. but, if this censorship (that's the only word that fits) became reality and could be extrapolated to all those ridiculous political e-mails i received the last few years, that might be a good thing. they're much worse than traditional spam. most folks are smart enough to ignore that. but those political e-mails had plenty of folks forwarding them around as if they were the gospel truth.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why are the liberals trying to take my livelihood?
They can't do this!

Look, I barely eek out a living as it is. But with the Bush people giving me hundreds of dollars extra last year for re-printing their material in my blog, I was able to get along a lot more comfortably.

And now the liberals on some committee are going to take that away from me?

- - -

OK, not really. But I could totally imagine something like that going on. While I think this trend smacks of censorship - and worse, censorship of political opinion by a government agency - I can see some of the fundamentals that they are trying to put a stop to. It reminds me of the concept of "walking around money".
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
So where are the free speech advocates on this issue?
Looks like another attempt to control the dissemination of information to me. The whole campaign finance reform act has had no effect except to limit who can speak out on an issue. So, if this gets extended to the internet it will give the network news some peace knowing that bloggers can no longer get the truth out when the media decides to lie. This stinks of censorship. Whatever happened to the First Amendment?
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Constitutional Violation
This is a very clear threat to the 1st amendment to the constitution and it's also censorship in its most basic form....
Posted by nzamparello (60 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's Next?
Are there going to be Gestapo hanging around on street corners listening to converstations?
I look at the internet blogs more like on line conversations that talk about all kinds of stuff. Will there be a ban on talking about cats? Will there be a pennalty that has to be paid to the local Humane Society if we talk about Mane ***** instead of Tabby's? Watch Dogging Internet converstaions would be like pennalizing thinking. When friends talk to each other, is their a charge? What's next, Banning cell phone text messaging?
I am waiting for some uniformed person to come up and say "Show Me Your Papers". Come ON Sheesh!!!
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
When hell freezes over!
We either have free speech or we don't. If Cnet gets to publish then so do I.

You can bet that I will be writing everybody I can to see this through.

Regulation of political speech on the Internet is simply a way of telling those of us who have an uncomfortable opinion to "go away" lest we disturb the masses.

That's about as unAmerican as it gets folks.

I'm a blogger and my blog is located at: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Google search for OpenGeek or goto opengeek dot org.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The correct way to take care of this
If it does become illegal to link to a political campaign website, there is only one answer. The electronic equivelent of civil disobedience. Everyone get a free Geocities or Anglefire or whatever site, and link to your favorite campaign. When they have arrested the entire populace, then maybe they will notice that the fist amendment might have something to do with this. It was specifically to protect political speech. When the govenment oversteps its bounds, it is time for the people to step up and violate the unconstitutional law. However, be ready to take the hit. Remember that standing up is of no value unless you are willing to take the punishment, because the inappropriateness of the punishment is part of the deal. I have no links to any political groups on my site, because I am in IT, and that is what my site is about, however, if it becomes illegal, I just may.

What is next? Taking a stand on an issue that obviously supports what one candidate believes over another? The thought police cannot be allowed to take over, but a lot of people are going to have to take some undeserved punishment before the majority are going to take notice.
Posted by amadensor (248 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pfffft---sorry, FEC, not FCC
Got some crossed eyes or synapses today!
Posted by RavingEniac (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't get it.
Both parties have spent hundreds of millions of dollars.
I wonder what blogs cost them.
Are their even paid bloggers?
If it's free it's not right?
Come on this could save money or at least be an inexpensive alternative.
It's a great way of expressing free speech and reaches many people.
I really believe the political elite and the large media corporations are seeing the bloggers as a legitimate threat.
What threat? Knowledge is power and we may just be empowered. The politicians may just be held accountable.
Times are changing and some don't like the direction?
We have a right to hear the truth.
We have a right to decide the truth for ourselves.
We have the right to speak the truth.

Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It will never happen.
You cannot silence those who wish to be heard. And preventing MILLIONS from linking? Impossible!
Posted by ang6666 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Regulation of the Internet?
I don't think so. Who do they (or we as a country for that matter) think we are? The Internet is world wide. Does some judge, or worse, a politician believe that just because they say so that they can control what goes over the Internet? What a load of rubbish!
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
FEC Commissioners' affiliations
According to the FEC website, McDonald is the only up-front Democrat. He's from Oklahoma, a Reagan appointee and probably a conservative. Two present themselves as nonpartisan. Of the other three, one is a former Republican National Committee staffer, one is a homeschooler from Lynchburg, VA who probably is a buddy of Jerry Falwell, and the third likes the libertarian Cato Institute and the Federalist Society (a rightwing lawyers organization). This doesn't look like a politically balanced commission to me.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by RavingEniac (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Forget about it
When the legislature and the judicial branch
start thinking clearly would somebody please
wake me?

It seems they are bent on making things
overcomplicated. Counting cost by the $ raised?
Oh that makes sense... not.

Governing must be done by spirit of law. If the
previous laws don't cover the Internet, think
like the original law-writers might think.

I personally believe in campaign spending
limits. It's about keeping the playing field
equal for little guys to compete with
millionaires. But what is the cost behind a

We allow volunteers to carry signs and yet we
don't calculate the cost of their shoes or the
clothes they wear. Perhaps we should take the
time they volunteer and calculate the percentage
and cost of the average meal so we can count
that too. We don't keep track of the gas they
use to get to the location, nor the expense
induced on their car.

So why would we bother with some obfuscated
percentage of the cost of a computer or their
Internet connection fees? Blog-sites are free
to the average Joe, so why would be care about
those costs?

But let's continue with the screwed up "money
earned" theme. I increase my income through
advertising my business. Sometimes it's done by
posting to email lists, other times by
word-of-mouth, and occasionally taking clients
out to lunch/dinner, or (heaven-forbid) purchase
ad space somewhere. I am in the habit of
writing off the expenses I incur from doing so.
Most of the advertising methods incur nearly
zero cost, while others cost moderately (I'm not
a big corporation so I have to be frugal).

I like the extension of this last bit of
thinking, because rather than adding up the cost
of doing what I've done, let's add up the money
*earned* from what I've done! That accounts for
all income throughout the year, so I pay no
taxes. I'm in! Where do I sign?
Posted by r4780y (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Q: "If Congress doesn't change the law, what kind of activities will the FEC have to target?

A: "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."

COMMENT: Then we'd better plan to figure the "financial value" of all those yard signs and bumper stickers for Bush/Cheney that I saw littering the landscape in my rural, conservative part of the "very blue" and proud of it Golden State of California!!!

Perhaps a percentage of their home/business property tax assessment?? Factored with the average number of passer's-by that could possibly view their political "yard spam??"

There's no end to the absolute stupidity (and hubris) of the RNC machine...and their fear that American's are just about ready to fire the whole sad lot of these elitist greedmongers...

Posted by spirit729 (1 comment )
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