Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Going Nuts Over 100 Words

Tomorrow the House of Representatives will take up the Hensarling bill (H.R. 1606) the Online Freedom of Speech Act. The campaign finance reform community is up in arms about the whole situation, claiming the that bill will result in an orgy of soft money spending, loop-hole exploiting, and "a free-fire zone without any limits on spending or reporting requirements." Such hyperbole we have not seen for, well 24 hours.

Allison Hayward, over at one of my favs, the Skeptic's Eye dissects the bunk being peddled by the NY Yimes. Allison correctly notes that the heart of the McCain-Feingold Act is untouched. Bob Bauer provides some additional details here.

The Hensarling bill, a bill of surprising brevity coming in at less that 100 words, including all that goobledy-gook of enactment clauses and short title, basicly enacts into law the very provision the FEC originally tried to enact, but since they failed to explain their actions properly enough, the couts struck down.

Trevor Potter, a former FEC commissioner, calls me and Allison and even Bob Bauer, a bunch of "scaremongers" for trying to point out that regulating the internet, even in a limited fashion, simply paves the way form more regulation.

Potter writes:
Not a single person I know of is interested in limiting online political discourse by Web loggers or other individual citizens. But an amalgam of the usual reform opponents — corporations, unions, party operatives and lawyers — is once again using scare tactics to claim that the government is out to squash political speech on the Internet. You may remember these scaremongers as the same personalities who insisted that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act soft-money ban was unconstitutional (the Supreme Court upheld it) and would surely destroy the political parties (they thrived).

These reform opponents presumably believe it would serve their interests if the Internet became an outlet for the same soft money that virtually drowned out the modest contributions of average citizens in the 1980s and 1990s, and that Congress banned in 2002. So they are trying to argue that a movement is afoot to "regulate grass-roots activity" in order to stop any regulation of the way state parties, corporations and unions finance federal political activities that take place online. If they are successful, they will have opened an Internet loophole through which soft money can once again flow freely.

While it can be argued that soft money was a bad thing or not, clearly Mr. Potter should take a little time to review the change in the law H.R. 1606 does. It simply exempts a class of communication from regulation. It does not change any other regulation and it is not a loophole of any sort. Corporate blogs, those that exists cannot advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate, even if they have negligible costs associated with their blog.

Call you Congressman--tell them to vote for this bill.

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