Bloggers were one of the big political successes of the 2004 election. This motley group of opinionated writers used their cyber soapboxes to attack and defend the presidential campaigns and the two major parties. Their websites offered a fresh look at politics and implicitly undermined the Establishment media that so many Americans have come to distrust. In other words, bloggers used freedom of speech to improve American democracy.
Naturally the federal government is about to come down hard on bloggers.
If you care about freedom of speech, there are good reasons for concern. The FEC may conclude that allowing political advertising by campaigns and parties on websites will undermine the restrictions on ads in McCain-Feingold. Ads on the Internet would be a loophole to McCain-Feingold that the FEC should close.
But bloggers don't necessarily work for a campaign or a political party and thus should not fall under McCain-Feingold, right?
Don't be too sure. Bloggers often endorse candidates or parties in an election. Those endorsements are of value to the candidates and may end up being treated as a campaign contribution, subject to limits and disclosure. Bloggers may also contribute to a campaign by linking to a candidate's website or republishing a candidate's press release.
Of course, The New York Times can endorse candidates for office and promote their causes, and you might think that bloggers would enjoy the same First Amendment protections. But you would be wrong. The FEC has not given news sites or bloggers what is tellingly called "the press exemption" from campaign finance laws. What bloggers say and do may well fall under federal campaign finance restrictions.
My understanding is that small-timers like me who aren't necessarily "political" bloggers could be affected. Is this as scary as it sounds?
HT: Mr. Criss