From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Is the Internet breathing new life into democracy by empowering citizens to air political opinions, or will it morph into a zillion-gigabyte loophole that unravels campaign finance reform?
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) confronted those questions at hearings that concluded Wednesday. A judge has ordered the FEC to consider how the Internet should be treated under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
Bloggers and their readers are worried that the FEC’s final answers, in the form of new regulations, will chill the free-wheeling atmosphere of the blogosphere.
What’s the background?
The McCain-Feingold law was written without understanding how big e-mail and Internet politicking might become.
In 2004, the first presidential election under the new campaign-finance law, the FEC took a hands-off approach as the Internet emerged as a major force in politics — and political fund-raising.
The law was designed to limit corporations, labor unions or millionaires from overwhelming elections with their wealth.
Unions and corporations can no longer contribute directly to campaigns. Individuals are limited to giving $2,000 per campaign.
They can give larger amounts to independent political groups, but those groups cannot coordinate their activities or messages with a candidate’s campaign or buy ads directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate.
The news media are an exception.
One exception to those rules: a news media corporation. A newspaper, television or radio network can spend as much as it wants on political coverage and broadcast or publish whatever they wish about politics. Its reporters’ conversations with campaigns also are unregulated, and editorial writers can advocate the election or defeat of a candidate.
Bloggers of the left and right, who don’t agree on much, testified this week that the FEC should rule that blogs are part of journalism.
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, whose website dailykos.com averages 12 million visits per month, told the FEC:
“Those believing they could corrupt the political process through the Internet had every incentive to do so in 2004, and unlimited means at their disposal. But nothing of the sort happened. The free market of ideas policed itself. It worked. So I ask you to do the minimum necessary to comply with the court order, and go no further.”
I was once a journalist. I worked for nine months as a news director for a radio station in Frankfort, Michigan in 1978-1979. My qualifications were that I could type and was willing to work for practically nothing. I got a press pass from the Michigan Associated Press and invited to the White House. Now I’m a blogger. My qualifications are that I have a computer and get paid nothing. The difference is that I worked for a media company in 1978, which was actually three guys that got together and put a radio station on the top of a hill in northern Michigan. Well, if that’s all it takes to get by the FEC, maybe I should incorporate. How’s this sound?
Bark Bark Woof Woof News Media On-Line Incorporated
Has a certain panache…