Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Blogola

From the Washington Post:

The Federal Election Commission, which has been considering issuing new regulations on a range of political activities on the Internet — and was said by some to be contemplating taking a tough stance on the online commentators — revealed in late March that it intends to be much less aggressive than many had feared. But now some observers are wondering whether the FEC is not being aggressive enough when it comes to one category of bloggers: those who take money from political campaigns.

The FEC requires candidates to disclose their expenditures, including any payments to bloggers, in periodic reports to the government. Some bloggers also disclose their financial relationships with candidates, but they are not obliged to reveal those payments, and the agency recently said it is not proposing requiring them to do so.

Some election law experts want the FEC to reverse that policy, saying it gives campaigns the opportunity to use ostensibly independent blogs as fronts to create the illusion of grass-roots support, mount attacks on their opponents and disseminate information to which candidates do not want their names attached.

“The concern is that somebody is blogging at the behest of a campaign and nobody knows it,” said Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who maintains a blog on election law.

“If, for example, you are a U.S. Senate candidate and you have a blogger who you’re paying to write good things about you and bad things about your opponent, it will eventually come out. But that may not come out until after the election,” Hasen said.

“But even if it comes out, there’s something to be said for having the information right there, so when you click on the Web site you see it says ‘Authorized by Smith for Congress,’ ” he added. “Voters rely on those pieces of information as cues in terms of how much stock they should put in what someone is saying.”

Others pushing for the disclaimers note the FEC said it is leaning toward requiring them on certain types of political advertising on the Internet. They say paid bloggers’ sites can be tantamount to ads and ought to be subject to the same disclosure rules.

[…]

The FEC is taking up the disclaimer issue after news reports last year indicated that a handful of campaigns from both parties had put bloggers on their payrolls. The most contentious example came in South Dakota, where GOP senatorial candidate John Thune paid $35,000 to two local bloggers who ran sites critical of the state’s largest newspaper’s coverage of Thune’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Thomas A. Daschle.

Neither the Thune campaign nor the bloggers revealed the relationship until it was disclosed in his finance reports. Both the campaign and the bloggers — one a history professor, the other a lawyer — denied they were paid to write, saying they were hired as consultants. The Daschle camp said the two were paid to smear the lawmaker.

Those who want additional disclosure requirements said they fear that scenario will become increasingly common as politicians become more sophisticated in using the Internet, as blogs attract larger audiences and as more mainstream news outlets report on — and amplify — what the blogosphere is saying.

[…]

Some political bloggers say disclaimers are unnecessary because most of them make no attempt to hide their support or opposition to individual candidates. Relatively few, some say, would risk their credibility and readership by accepting undisclosed payments — and that those who do would be quickly outted by other bloggers.

“I think a lot of these things are reasonable as a matter of ethics,” said Duncan Black, who runs a popular liberal blog called Eschaton under the pen name Atrios. “But that’s different from being reasonable as a matter of law.”

Well, as President Bush noted the other night, I can only speak to myself, but I would be highly suspicious of any candidate who tried to get me to blog on the QT for them and pay me for the privilege. I’m not sure that I would want someone who thinks that Bark Bark Woof Woof is a reliable source of sober political discourse running for office because I would suspect that that person was unbalanced. But, if they’re willing to part with their dough, I’d be happy to accept it — as long as they wore a Bark Bark Woof Woof t-shirt at every campaign appearance.