Dear Rep. Moran:

 

I understand that in the autumn of 2004 U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly overruled a 2002 Federal Election Commission decision to exempt the Internet from most of the provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.  Recently there has been speculation about what kind of administrative control the FEC may try to implement on campaign contributions made indirectly through the Internet.

 

Most of us perceive campaign finance reform as necessary to prevent well-funded special interests from “buying” corporate welfare from elected officials with campaign contributions. But there are concerns that Internet regulation by the FEC could impact journalism, particularly the grass-roots “amateur” form coming to be known as “blogging.” Common sense would suggest that most personal websites and blogs do not supply significant financial support to political candidates. However, blogs can put considerable pressure on traditional journalism and on politicians, as well as becoming a tool for rather unsupervised “self-promotion” by the bloggers and newbie writers themselves. To the extent that many online weblog political writers tend towards being rather independent people, their net effect on policy may be to pressure it into conservative to libertarian directions of less government, both in providing a social safety net for the needy and also in restricting freedom.

 

There is some Chicken-Little “sky is falling” talk. For example, check out the March 3 2005 CNET article is “The Coming Crackdown on Blogging” by Declan McCullagh, at http://news.com.com/The+coming+crackdown+on+blogging/2008-1028_3-5597079.html?tag=st.prev. Of particular concern would be attempts to regulate the sending of emails for political candidates from “blogger” sites, the providing of direct links to candidate sites, or even analysis that could be perceived as promoting a candidate’s view about anything controversial (such as social security or health care). Where could this lead? Maybe even to downstream liability for ISP’s or other parties?  Again, common sense suggests that the financial value to a candidate of an individual’s own efforts is impossible to evaluate, outside of something that can be counted against an allowable maximum (such as a count of emails for a candidate).

 

The 2002 Law is supposed to provide a “press” exemption. It is unclear to me right now whether entertainment (say a film like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11) could legally be construed as supporting a political candidate in a quantifiable way. But there is clearly the message that individual political activity that has a self-promotional potential (which blogging obviously does) could come under chilling legal pressure.  There may be good philosophical reasons (even legal ones in First Amendment analysis yet to come) why some people feel that the use of a public space (The Web) for self-promotional opportunities by “amateurs” (who didn’t “pay their dues” first) should be regulated. But at least these arguments have practically nothing to do with the shoving at bribe money to candidates by well-organized special interests. This indeed sounds like an idea out of a John Sayles movie (Silver City). 

 

It may be necessary for Congress to intervene to prevent clumsy regulations from taking effect this summer. With this issue, Conservatives (I fear) may be more likely to come to the aid of protecting freedom of expression by individuals on the Internet than mainstream Democrats, because it is likely that they (Conservatives and Republicans) benefit more politically from what bloggers and self-publishers write. It is hard for me to imagine right now how the FEC would even try to write or enforce new rules. But that’s what’s scary.

 

Please let me know what is going on with the FEC and Internet regulation. 

John W Boushka

BUSINESS ADDRESS

4201 Wilson Blvd #110-688

Arlington VA 22203-1859

571-334-6107

JBoushka@aol.com

 

March 18, 2005

 

Rep. Moran replies (on 4/6/2005):

 

Thank you for contacting me regarding the potential regulation of blogs by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). I appreciate hearing from my constituents on matters that are important to them.

 

As you may know, the Federal Election Commission is reviewing whether parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) should apply to the Internet.  This review is occurring after a U.S. District Judge overturned a decision saying that the Internet is exempt from the BCRA.

 

I was a supporter of BCRA, but do not think that blogs should be regulated. People who choose to use a blog to express their support or dissent for a political candidate or policy are exercising their right of free speech. In fact, the original sponsors of campaign finance reform legislation, Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold and Representatives Christopher Shays and Marty Meehan, have sent a letter to the FEC stating that independent bloggers should not be regulated to “allow .. robust political debate on the Internet.”  The Internet is a completely different communication tool than other mass media, and must be treated as such.

 

Please feel free to visit my website at http://www.moran.house.gov that contains information on other topics of interest or to sign up for the Moran E-Digest to receive periodic email updates and alerts. Thank you again for contacting me.

 

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