Friday, March 11, 2005

Is It Really "Free Speech" If They're Paying for It?

CNN Online had an interesting news item today concerning the Federal Election Commission's ongoing review of blogs and whether or not they should be regulated as political groups.
In separate letters, Democratic lawmakers and Internet commentators urged the Federal Election Commission to make sure that political Web sites that serve as focal points for political discussion, like and, don't have to comply with campaign-finance rules.

"Curtailing blogs and other online publications will dampen the impact of new voices in the political process and will do a disservice to the millions of voters who rely on the Web for original, insightful political commentary," said the Online Coalition, a group of bloggers and online activists.

Fourteen members of the House of Representatives said blogs foster a welcome diversity of viewpoints.

"This 'democratization' of the media is a welcome development in this era of media consolidation and a corresponding lack of diversity of views in traditional media outlets," said the group, which consists of thirteen Democrats and one Republican.

Personally, I disagree. As the whole Jeff Gannon incident has shown, websites and weblogs are perfectly capable of being turned into paid political advertisements, and as such should not be granted some kind of blanket clearance from scrutiny for being coordinated political activity.

Christian Grantham in particular is very conscientious about this -- he always is careful to show that he is working with a particular campaign when he blogs on that or a related issue. However, my suspicion is that Christian is, as usual, a very rare gem in the blogosphere -- and that there are far many more blogs receiving funding either from direct party entities, PACs, or 527 groups without making the fact public.

My personal solution is very simple -- blogs should be able to accept money from anyone for whatever reason, as long as the donor list is made public. Anyone who stays in the blogosphere for very long quickly realizes that the most powerful force in its universe is the self-correcting mechanism -- if a blog even LOOKS too partisan, another few will have at it and try to figure out why. This way, the FEC doesn't need to regulate political speech in blogs -- the ecosystem itself will take care of matters, as long as the information is readily available.

UPDATE (12 March): I've finally located some details on The Online Coalition and the fourteen Representatives who signed and sent the letter (thanks to dailyKos).

It doesn't surprise me that Ron Paul is on that list -- this is quite consistent with his general libertarian views on campaign finance. However, given the thirteen Democrats on that list, I can't help but wonder -- is this truly an expression of concern, or just another example of their opposition to anything that might negatively affect their ability to manipulate elections?

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