Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Why Bloggers?

What amazes me about all of this talk about the FEC and bloggers is that seemingly sensible people think it's important to place disclosure requirements on bloggers which apply to no one else in the universe. That is, they want to make legal disclosure requirements for some idiot with a web page, which wouldn't apply when that idiot appears on television or writes an op-ed or hosts a radio program or anything else. Rick Hasen of Loyola writes:

I'd like to see disclosure by paid bloggers along the lines of 11 C.F.R. 110.11, which, if applied to paid bloggers, would require something like a statement on each page view that says something to the effect of "Paid for by Smith for Congress, an authorized campaign committee." I don't think a single disclosure or disclosure on the home page is enough because those who follow a link to a particular page on the site won't see the disclosure.

The disclosure is important because readers can more easily judge the credibility of a blogger and blog post knowing the person is getting paid to write on the topic

But, campaign finance and election laws don't exist to satisfy Rick Hasen's desire for people to be able to "more easily judge the credibility of a blogger and blog post knowing the person is getting paid to write on the topic." That isn't their purpose. And, existing laws, including the one referenced, don't require this kind of disclosure for people appearing in or writing for any other medium.

If I'm getting paid to stuff envelopes for a Congressional race, and I call a radio show and plug my candidate, I'm not legally required to disclose. If I'm getting paid to provide consulting on internet outreach to a candidate and I go on MSNBC to talk politics, I'm not required to disclose. The radio show may expect that I'll disclose. MSNBC may expect that I'll disclose. However, I'm not legally required to do so. The entire pundit/consultant class would be shut down if every time they opened their mouths they had to disclose all of their financial ties to candidates.

There's a distinction between "paid advertising" and "some guy who gets paid and also talks about politics in various media outlets, including blogs."

Blogs have a miniscule reach compared to TV, radio, newspapers, etc... and no one working in those outlets has a legal requirement to disclose their connections to candidates. There maybe ethical guidelines, there may be company policies, but there are no legal requirements. Why is blogging so goddamn special that it needs to be singled out in this way?

...and, to add, I do think that it would be possible for a blog run by someone working for a candidate to qualify as a "paid advertisement" - if the person running the blog was being paid *to run the blog.* Then, it would be as much a campaign website as the actual campaign website. If last year the Kerry campaign called and offered me $5000 to write nice things about Big John, and I did so, arguably that would qualify as a paid advertisement. But, that's a pretty high bar and in no way should apply across the board to anyone who gets money from a candidate for any reason and happens to babble away on the internets.