Friday, June 03, 2005


There are two basic themes being expressed by those who want to keep political speech off the internets. The first theme is just basic and total dumbassery - a total incomprehension of the internets, and a bizarrely out of date view of what our contemporary media has become. The second is that there are many groups who oddly see the FEC rulemaking process as an ideal time to destroy the competition - they want to restrict the concept of "media" to the kind which requires big money in order to preserve special press protections for an elite few. The latter of course goes against the entire purpose of campaign finance laws.

Our lawyer, Adam Bonin, has done a great job submitting public comments to the FEC on our behalf. It's a pretty interesting read overall, but I these bits captured my personal biggest issues with the whole thing quite well:

At their best, bloggers are true journalists, contacting sources, researching facts and raising public awareness of vital issues. Even at their "worst," bloggers perform the same function as talk radio hosts or opinion journalists in the print and televised media, energizing partisan supporters through humor, vitriol and innuendo. That which is allowed under the media exemption in other formats (TV, radio, print) should be equally permitted on the Internet. There is no legitimate reason to distinguish between Sean Hannity, Maureen Dowd, Bill O’Reilly and us in terms of who among us can freely speak in support of or opposition to federal candidates without incurring federal reporting obligations or contribution limits...


We also recognize the concern, as expressed via the comments being submitted by the
Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet and others, that to expand the media exemption to include bloggers would diminish “the privileged status the press currently enjoys.” Curiously referring to bloggers’ desire to equal treatment as “demands”, the IPDI portends that such an expansion would destroy campaign finance regulations and/or reporter shield laws.

Such claims are either legally irrelevant or factually invalid, and often both. Neither the First Amendment nor our federal campaign finance laws exist in order to entrench a regime in which only an elite class of speakers possessed rights to speak out on political affairs (and be paid for doing so). The duties of the Federal Election Commission, according to its own website, "are to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections." The FEC does not exist to ensure that a particular type "privileged status" is given only to one preferred group of "serious" media members. Indeed, the FEC has long extended the media exemption beyond a selected caste of the j-school anointed to include such entities as MTV, and even the National Rifle Association was allowed to broadcast “NRAnews” in 2004 without being deemed to fall outside the restriction.

Moreover, as explained throughout this document, we can no longer pretend that
journalists and pundits currently operating under the media exemption are never themselves activists – have the IPDI leaders listened to talk radio during the past decade-plus? Did they miss every single one of Paul Begala and James Carville’s appearances as hosts on CNN’s "Crossfire" during the 2004 campaign while they were simultaneously functioning as consultants to the Kerry for President campaign? Have they not consulted the public records compiled at websites like, which detail the massive personal campaign contributions made by the owners, editors and journalists of these sacrosanct media corporations? It would be profoundly ironic for the interests of established media organizations, which so gleefully reported on the rise of the blogosphere and its role in democratizing politics, to themselves contribute to building an iron wall between themselves and bloggers. The Internet did not only open up politics to citizen participation in the way the Framers intended; it did so to the news media as well, returning to the days when individual pamphleteers like Thomas Paine could rally a nation. Nothing in the First Amendment, campaign finance law or the FEC’s interpretation thereof suggests that the Freedom of the Press be limited to those who write without expressing opinion or passion.

Finally, because of the low costs of entry and infinite bandwidth in the Internet speech "market," the FEC can abandon within this sphere any restrictions employed in other media meant to combat excessive partisanship. Requirements on other media like giving "reasonably equal coverage" to all candidates or that equal rates be extended to all advertisers have no place in a medium defined by the infinite space it provides to all speakers. Such regulations only make sense with regards to television and radio, where market entry is costly and the avenues for expression limited.