NPR's political money-tracker Peter Overby was floored by the ruling and the process by which it came about. He says it was a stunning example of everything going... right.
The process was characterized by a tone of civility not usually seen inside the Beltway. Granted, that's a pretty low standard. But Overby says initially when talks began, the FEC and good-government groups had no understanding of bloggers -- or much else about the Internet for that matter. Bloggers had no clue how campaign financing rules and regs worked. But somehow the two sides actually began to understand each other.
The core of the decision is a recognition that the Internet is a unique medium. In traditional politics, money buys influence. On the Internet, influence raises money. And a bunch of a little bloggers, each with a million readers, can have a big influence. But the FEC isn't worried about the little guy. As long as you aren't being paid by a campaign, nothing you do online will be considered a contribution. Only traditional paid political ads on Web sites are subject to the old campaign rules.
Yes, it was really an example of things going right and not simply because I think the final ruling was great. It's true that people on both sides learned. I learned far more about campaign finance law than I ever wanted to (and which I hope to quickly forget) and the FEC commissioners also really seemed to take the time to "get it." That people involved in the process understood campaign finance law was important because when you're lobbying Congress you can ask for a pony, but when you're trying to influence a body like the FEC you have to understand that the legal framework they're operating under doesn't necessarily let them give you a pony, or at least that you're going to have to offer up a complex rationalization for why they should, in fact, give you a pony.