Which of course any nominally paranoid person should immediately recognizes as a giant red flag!
Don’t be fooled by the assertions that the 2004 elections were a free-for-all on the internet. From personal experience I know that at least some campaigns were seriously accounting for in-kind donations from blogs. In my case I donated a BlogAd (actually I just provided them a way to buy the ad at no cost) to the campaign of Democrat Andy Rossenberg to unseat Democrat Jim Moran in the House race in Virginia. I made the offer to provide free ads to any challenger of either party who ran against Moran – he’s that big of a scumbag. I had to sign a disclosure for for the Rossenberg campaign, in effect stating that I was contributing the value of the BlogAd to the campaign. I made the same offer to the Republican challenger, but her campaign never really got it and never did run an ad.
When the dustup about the consultant fees paid to Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and Jerome Armstrong by the Dean campaign was going strong a few months ago I did some poking around in the FEC database and found that those fees and other campaigns purchases of BlogAds were all listed. Remember those super-secret “other customers” that Markos and Jerome had? It’s not a secret from the FEC, and a record of their payments to Armstrong Zuniga LLC is available in the campaign reporting records. For the amateur sleuths in the audience it’s worth noting that finding this information is very much akin to finding needles in a haystack, but by law it must be collected and reported.
Via Captain Ed and Democracy Project comes word that Trevor Potter’s PR firm, which is denying that there’s any threat to bloggers, have longstanding ties to Senator McCain and the FEC. Mike Krempasky notes that Potter appears to have changed his tune from just a few months ago regarding regulation of blogs and bloggers. Somehow I’m less that comforted by Potter’s attempt at spin in this case.
Potter argues that only paid ads will be covered for internet regulation. In fact, the FEC has already views paid internet ads as subject to regulation under FECA. Kollar-Kotelly’s opinion requiring the FEC to regulate the internet does not limit its reach to paid ads [see pages 32-56]. In the lawsuit cited, brought by Reps. Shays and Meehan (represented by Potter and supported by Sens. McCain and Feingold), it was successfully argued that the FEC could not exclude unpaid broadcast ads from the reach of the law (pages 153-156).
Since Kollar-Kotelly’s decision does not limit its reach to paid ads, and Potter (and the McCain-Feingold sponsors) favor regulating unpaid ads, it takes an incredible leap of blind faith to assume that they are don’t intend to ask that unpaid advertising or in-kind contributions on the internet be regulated. It’s the in-kind contributions that will really bit bloggers in the ass.
I’ve been reading the 2002 Congressional testimony of FEC Commissioner David Mason,
whom FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith noted was one of the 3 Democratic Commissioners who won’t get on board an effort to clarify FEC regulations regarding the Internet.. [Ed – I got my Commissioners mixed up. Mason is Republican, and is among the group supporting extending exemptions]
In his testimony he goes to great lengths to argue why internet communications should be treated differently. He does manage to slip back into bureaucratic mode in this section.
Looking forward, the most difficult issue the Commission is likely to face in the near future concerns Internet sites containing express advocacy or soliciting funds for candidates, other than those maintained by political committees or those eligible for the volunteer or other exemptions. At least one Internet-based group, Move-on.org, chose to register as a political committee after an early response to its political appeals. Sooner or later, however, the Commission is bound to encounter non-exempt individual or organization Internet sites which include express advocacy, solicit contributions or appear to be the fruit of coordination with candidates. At that point the Commission will have to address what portion of the Internet activities are subject to regulation (for instance, whether we apply something akin to a major purpose test to an Internet site) and how to value those activities.
I understand, for instance, that some political “portal” sites are considering offering their users an option to contribute to virtually any candidate through the portal site. It is not clear what sort of arrangements with candidates the sites contemplate, but that idea that corporate-owned sites may be facilitating contributions to candidates under the corporate name and using corporate facilities, even if they have a system for charging campaigns, seems to implicate the corporate contribution ban in a fairly fundamental way.That ought to send a chill down the spine of the larger and more well organized political advocacy blogs and web sites. Clearly this is something the FEC has been thinking about for many years.
What is so odd about Mason’s current stand (as relayed by Smith) is that it is in opposition to the majority of his 2002 testimony. He closes his testimony with this: Let’s hope that what Mason’s envisions in his closing comes to fruition.
Internet-specific legislation should not be written so as to freeze developing political uses of the Internet or to create adverse presumptions regarding activity not specifically exempted. Ideally Congress should adopt a very broad exemption, excluding Internet publications from the definition of general public political advertising. I hope that Congress will support the Commission in a generous application of existing FECA exemptions to Internet activity and will indicate that the Commission should view new Internet-specific exemptions as adding to, rather than restricting, those existing exemptions.
It’s time to get to work on the 3 Democratic members of the FEC and Congress.