Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Online Freedom of Speech.. what it's all about....
HR 4194 is sponsored by Shays and Meehan, and only those two, as they honestly have no clue what they've gotten into. Their complete lack of understanding of this medium would be quaint and cute, for two old out-of-touch luddites, if it didn't have such real-world repercussions. Yet on issues of campaign finance these two have a well-earned reputation, one which allowed them the use fear, uncertainty and doubt to kill HR 1606.
For example, see Rep. Tammy Baldwin's explanation for her vote:
Congresswoman Baldwin voted against HR 1606 because, basically, it purports to fix a problem that doesn't exist, while opening up huge loopholes that could allow corporations, unions, and soft money to again re-enter the political process via the internet.
Bloggers who are concerned that under FEC rules (and court decisions), they will be unable to state their political views freely should know that under current law bloggers are not covered by "public communication" FEC laws.
Well, sure. Current law is good. Problem is that Shays and Meehan sued to overturn current law, and in turn forced the FEC to add restrictions. The legislation that Baldwin (and lots other Democrats and Republicans) voted against would've preserved that status quo that Baldwin thinks is so great.
That FUD was introduced by a dishonest lobbying campaign by Meehan and the "reformer" groups -- one in which they flat-out lied about the effects of the legislation. In fact, their fantastic scenarios of soft money flooding into the Internet were easily refuted by the fact that in four years of a free and unfettered internet none of the horror stories they've conctocted have occured.
Today, Shays and Meehan circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter to fellow congresspeople urging consideration of their alternate bill, 4194. This bill is completely unacceptable. The text:
Paragraph (22) of section 301 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431(22)) is amended by adding at the end the following: `Such term shall not include any communication made over the Internet, other than a communication placed on another person's website for a fee, a communication made by any person described in section 316 (other than a corporation described in such section whose principal purpose is operating a web log), a communication made by a State, district, or local committee of a political party described in section 323(b), or a communication made by any political committee.'.
Adam B explains the problem:
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. 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? Most importantly, this "principal purpose" test would not protect incorporated entities like DailyKos.com, as the reformers see it. As they have explained in formal comments to the FEC and elsewhere, the same groups which drafted HR 4194 have argued that a site like this one or FiredUp has a principal purpose of "electing Democrats," not blogging, and therefore should not be protected from byzantine FEC regulations.
Why do I keep calling the reformers, Shays and Meehan out of touch? This alternate bill shows it. Not only does their legislation endanger group blogs (Bye bye Booman Tribune, TPM Cafe, and so on), but their notion that political discussions on the internet are somehow limited to the blogosphere is laughable.
That's how clueless these people are -- they don't realize that the internet is bigger than the blogs.
I made this point when testifying before the FEC:
It's truly impossible for any one person to truly grasp the scope of internet communication technologies. As I wrote this, off the top of my head, I could think of the following internet communication technologies - blogging, email, instant messaging, message boards, Yahoo Groups, internet relay chat (IRC), chat groups, pod casting, Internet radio, flash animation, web video, web cams, and peer to peer networks like LimeWire and, before yesterday, at least, Grokster. The new Apple operating system has little applications called "widgets" that live on my desktop and get automatically updated via the web. So I get my 5-day weather forecast not from a browser, but from my widget. Microsoft promises much of the same in their next version of Windows.
All of these technologies have political applications, yet they are vastly different. In fact, the only element they all have in common is that they use the Internet to connect people from all reaches of the world. What those people do with the connections is limitless. And collectively, these communication technologies have even less in common with the offline communications that the law was designed to regulate.
I'd be willing to bet my left foot that people like Meehan and his "reformer" friends don't even know what a "wiki" is. Or IRC. Or the difference between a message board and a Yahoo Group.
Only HR 1606 (penned by Harry Reid, remember) protects ALL internet communications, both present and future. Only HR 1606 protects group blogs. Only HR 1606 protects Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo and every other incorporated blogger (a number that is growing rapidly).
We got an early look at the friends of the medium with that first vote on HR 1606. I've since talked to several congresspersons and staff that said they would've voted for 1606 if they had heard both sides of the story. In short, they only heard one side of the story, and that was the dishonest portrayal given by the reformer groups and Meehan. Next time, we'll be better organized on Capitol Hill.
So there will be several opportunities for our ranks of friends to grow. A vote against HR 4194 will be the next test.
CommonCause.org and Democracy21.org are AGAINST Online Freedom. They are out of touch and dishonest. I will no longer have anything to do with either groups.