Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Online Freedom of Speech Act 

A longtime friend, Don Bates, contacted me with this request:

Did you see the editorial in today's NY Times about unleashing the Internet for political advertising and the like without regulation? Maybe you could find something more for us that gives the details along with a couple of pros and cons, yours in particular. Thanks.

It's hard to turn down a request like that. So, Don, here is what I found. The Act is HR 1606, which you can find by going here. The whole of the Act is a one-sentence modification of the Federal Election Campaign (FEC) Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431(22)), and it was submitted on April 13, 2005. HR 1606 has an identical twin in HR 1605 and in Senate Act S. 678 submitted by Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid on March 17, 2005. The original intent of HR 1606 was to protect political bloggers, which includes PR political bloggers, from being regulated by the FEC.

The New York Times was harrumphing because HR 1606 was being brought up for vote in the House, and the Times considers it an end-run to allow campaign financing through the Internet rather than blogger protection. It also turns out that Reps. Christopher Shays and Marty Meehan had sent a letter to House members asking them to dump HR 1606 and to replace it with a proposal of their own that would protect bloggers but keep the FEC in place. In addition, the Washington Post had opposed HR 1606 in an editorial on Oct. 11, 2005, and members of Congress have spoken against it. You can find all this here, on the web site of an organization founded by Fred Wertheimer.

As of this hour, I don't know the fate of the bill and whether it was brought up.

Pros and Cons. I am not a campaign nor election expert. Bloggers' free speech needs to be protected. Whether or not this Act does so or is a "bill to protect political bagmen" as the Times says, is beyond me. All I know is what I see, and it has to do with campaign financing in general. It seems that campaign financing laws have made democracy safe for billionaires who can self-finance elections. We have a billionaire buying his reelection in New York City right now. We have two mere centimillionaires trying to buy the governorship of New Jersey. I feel sorry for the poor bastards who are only worth 20-or-so million. The rest of us need not apply.

Is there a public relations issue? Yes, there is in New Jersey. There is an undercurrent of resentment that men of extreme wealth seem to get their way because they are willing to dig and dig again into their own pockets. None of this has to do with HR 1606.

If you want to follow the bill, there are a number of bloggers writing about it. Go here. And, you can enter HR 1606 into Google's news search to get the latest stories.

UPDATE: The bill was defeated. Go here for the story.


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