Thoughts from a Yellow Dog Democrat living in Olympia, in the great BLUE state of Washington

I am a liberal because it is the political philosophy of freedom and equality. And I am a progressive because it is the political path to a better future. And I am a Democrat because it is the political party that believes in freedom, equality and progress. -- Digby

Monday, November 07, 2005

My Letter to Congressman Smith on Campaign Finance

Please continue to support HR1606 and DO NOT SUPPORT H.R. 4914, the Shays-Meehan alternative.

I like most campaign finance regulation, and believe that there are sound ways to prevent accumulations of wealth from corrupting our politics. If a bill is presented which extends the soft money rules to the Internet, but also allows for robust protection of citizen activity on the Internet, please support it.

However, the Shays-Meehan alternative is defiantly not such a bill. Three quick reasons:
1. It does not protect online group activity from regulation. Basically, any group site that has > $1000 in server and other costs/expenditures over the course of the year, and which uses its site to occasionally discuss federal candidates, would have be classified as a political committee with formal filing and disclosure requirements.
2. Its protection to corporations "whose principal purpose is operating a web log" is silent as to other already-existing and yet-to-exist forms of online activity. What about podcasters? Wikis? P2P networks?
3. Most importantly, the "principal purpose" test would not protect incorporated entities who blog like or Talking Points. The same groups which drafted HR 4194 have argued that sites the ones mentioned above have a principal purpose of "electing Democrats," not blogging, and therefore should not be protected from Byzantine FEC regulations. I disagree.

If HR 1606 is not politically possible, expand the "media exemption" to cover the Internet as well. It is under consideration by the FEC, but Congress could do it as well.
Basically, the media exemption is the statutory protection which allows corporations like The New York Times Co. or Fox to operate media outlets without having everything they say which aids a candidate to be considered an illegal in-kind contribution to that campaign. It currently protects any "news story, commentary, or editorial by any broadcasting station (including a cable television operator, programmer or producer), newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication . . . unless the facility is owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate," and expanding that list to "the Internet" would accomplish three goals:
it would provide clear, unmistakeable protection
it would cover individual, group and incorporated activity online
it would cover all the forms of Internet political activity, and not require new regulations as each new format becomes popular.
Please keep the focus of campaign finance laws on the sophisticated candidates, parties, PACs and other entities already cognizant of their legal obligations, and leave the rest of us left alone.

Protect our free speech. This isn't about blogs. It's about all internet communication technologies -- wikis, podcasters, social networking software, email distribution lists, newsgroups, static websites, news aggregators, and so on. The political internet is much, much larger than just blogs.