March 9, 2006 9:12 AM PST

Political bloggers may get federal protection

Bloggers would be largely immunized from hundreds of pages of confusing federal regulations dealing with election laws, according to a bill approved by a House of Representatives panel on Thursday.

Democrats had blocked an earlier effort last November to enact the legislation, which would amend federal campaign finance laws to give Internet publishers many of the same freedoms that newspapers and magazines currently enjoy.

"We don't expect bloggers to check with a federal agency before they go online," said House Administration Committee Chairman Vernon Ehlers, a Michigan Republican, referring to the Federal Election Commission. "They shouldn't have to read FEC advisory opinions (or have) to worry about running afoul of federal election laws."

The FEC is under court order to finalize rules to extend a controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet. Unless Congress acts, the final regulations could cover everything from regulating hyperlinks to politicians' Web sites to forcing disclosure of affiliations with campaigns.

Opponents of Internet reform have warned that the measure would invite "corrupt" activities to take place online, such as cozy relationships between bloggers and political candidates that were not disclosed. The New York Times wrote in an editorial in November that "the Internet would become a free-fire zone without any limits on spending."

"Bloggers should be treated no different from talk radio," said Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, a California Democrat. "Talk radio hosts have protections under the First Amendment. While I may disagree with their positions on the issues of the day, I will nonetheless fight for their right to speak their mind."

Millender-McDonald said she never intended for her vote in favor of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, better known as the McCain-Feingold law, to "squeeze out the voices of people expressing themselves on blogs on the Internet." Because the FEC's Democratic commissioners would not appeal a court order, that 2002 law is forcing the agency to act.

November's floor vote on the same bill, which more than three-quarters of congressional Democrats opposed at the time, took place during a special, accelerated procedure that required a two-thirds majority for approval. Under normal procedures, which are happening now, only a majority is required.

The House reform proposal, only one sentence long, simply says that the portion of federal election law that deals with publications aimed at the general public "shall not include communications over the Internet."

The Center for Democracy and Technology has offered an alternative proposal (click here for PDF) that was not considered on Thursday. In some ways, it would be more censorial than the House bill because it would immunize a self-published political Web site only if the cost remained under $5,000.

But CDT's proposal appears to be less restrictive in other ways. Unlike the House bill, according to an analysis the group prepared, three friends who produce a video for $3,000 attacking a political candidate would not be required to register as a political action committee.

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9 comments

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Pathetic
Congress is pathetic. It's amazing they're not too ashamed to cash their paychecks. Last time I checked the Constitution was pretty clear about freedom of speech. Congress doesn't have and never will have the authority to grant 'protection' to bloggers. This right is guaranteed by the Constitution and is "endowed by our creator." Congress are a pathetic bunch of time wasters and money wasters. Just absolutely pathetic. Really, really, really pathetic. Pathetically pathetic.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BREATHE FRANK...
but i feel ya doe...
Posted by Blackspeak (42 comments )
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Generally useless comments....
...don't need any serious protection. Just ignore them. Nobody
cares what they say anyhow.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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Bloggers do need protection.
There are alot of blogs that edit your words. Especially ones owned by members of Congress. I haven't caught this place doing it though.
Posted by casper2004 (267 comments )
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The Root of the Problem...
...is the wretched Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act. Think about this: Rep. Millender-McDonald says that she never intended her vote for the act to "squeeze out the voices of people expressing themselves on blogs on the Internet." By extension we can assume that she did mean to squeeze out _some_ voices expressing themselves _somewhere_.

And then we have the Center for Democracy and Technology which wants to tinker with what is and what is not regulated speech: a trio producing a $3000 video = good, an individual with a $5500 web site = bad. This is not only unconstitutional, it is moronic.

Instead, Congress should take a positive step by affirming its oath of office: to uphold and defend the Constitution by repealing the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act.
Posted by Techno Guy (77 comments )
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test
testing
Posted by nidsquid (2 comments )
Link Flag
root of the problem
It's a fair point. If BCRA had been altered not to include the Internet, we wouldn't be having this discussion today.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
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Congress
should put all their personal money in a pile, count it by hand, and split it up with every American in the USA that don't have money to burn.
Posted by casper2004 (267 comments )
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my two cents
The general public is acquainted with politicians through the media. Congress recognizes that people are increasingly using the internet both as a source of information and as a forum for community discussion of issues. This can be useful, but they don't want it to be abused, and rightly so.

I think everyone is missing the point of this law, so let me give you an example. Currently the New York Times isn't allowed to print a political advertisement without disclosing that it is an adverstisement and not news reporting.

Why, you ask? Because people would believe all the FUD thrown at them because it's coming from a source they trust, yet anyone with enough money can purchase an adverstisement in the NY Times. These same laws hold true for television and other mediums.

The problem is the internet. More and more people get information from blogs, because they assume they are simply communicating with their peers. What if they weren't? What if they were really being tricked by political campaigners? This law is to make sure that doesn't happen.

This law doesn't limit legitimate political discussion, only FUD masked as something else. So long as political campaigners disclose that they are political campaigners, then everything is kosher.

I thin people forget that nearly every dime raised by politicians goes into their campaign funds in order to get them reelected. In today's world, candidates must sell themselves to the public, and TV commercials and newspaper ads cost a fortune.

Okay.. my two cents.
Posted by mortis9 (370 comments )
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