Monday, September 26, 2005

Free the Blogs

Steve Bates reports from the YDD Annex that he’s almost back in business in Houston with the main page of The Yellow Doggerel Democrat.

He also brings to light recent testimony before Congress about the possibility that the Federal Election Commission might consider rules regulating bloggers’ participation in the election process. This is in response to the rather surprising success the Democrats had in using the blogosphere in 2004…although it wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped; if so, it would be President Kerry bopping around the Gulf Coast. Anyway, Steve makes a couple of good points.

Democrats got pretty good at using the blogosphere in 2004 to connect the rank and file to candidates’ campaigns, in some cases with substantial direct participation in campaigns (e.g., Kos) and in some cases just links to campaign and party sites (e.g., the YDD). Republicans have a lot more money, but were not in my opinion as sophisticated in their use of the right blogosphere… a well-oiled message machine, but not so much an effective campaign tool… as the Democratic Party and its candidates were in using the center-left blogosphere.

The Dems’ success in fundraising etc. via the blogosphere provides an irresistible temptation to executive branch Republicans to squelch speech on blogs to shut down the Dems’ source of funds by claiming a violation of campaign finance laws. Ultimately, though, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and the First Amendment is part of the Constitution. Suppressing Democratic speech about fundraising is unconstitutional.

The campaign finance laws contain a journalist exception. I’ve often said that bloggers by and large are not journalists, but for purposes of campaign finance law, the distinction is without a difference. Bloggers intend to convey information and opinion to the public. They must be allowed to do so unfettered by restrictions intended to cover baldfaced monetary influence of campaigns by interest groups. Any regulation of such is an infringment of free speech. Period.

Any time a new method of mass communication comes into play, be it radio, television or the internet, the first instinct of people in power is to regulate it and exert control over it so that it will not threaten the status quo, i.e. their grip on power. The second instinct is to make money off it. (The third is to use it for porn, but that’s another story.) Whether or not the party in power — the Republicans — will try to regulate free speech on the blogs depends on whether or not they can reconcile their natural instinct to go completely free-market capitalistic with their instinct to be control freaks over something that might give their opponents an equal footing in a campaign.