Friday, March 04, 2005

Congress Shall Make No Law...

Thanks go to Bob James who writes on his blog about the FEC's approaching attempt to quell dialog on the Internet. That means blogs, folks.

:::::::: Just when you thought you were getting a voice...
Bloggers will be watched, says Bradley Smith, one of the six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission. The ZDNet article contains details of an interview whereby Smith states that "bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site."

The story he references is here, and he's not wrong. Taking a wider look at the story and you'll see that Bob's not exaggerating. If anything, it's worse than his story lets on:

:::::::: In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines.

Smith should know. He's one of the six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, which is beginning the perilous process of extending a controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet.

In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. "The commission's exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines" the campaign finance law's purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

Smith and the other two Republican commissioners wanted to appeal the Internet-related sections. But because they couldn't get the three Democrats to go along with them, what Smith describes as a "bizarre" regulatory process now is under way.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 is more commonly known as the "McCain-Feingold Act" after the Senators who put the bill up for consideration. Intended to remove big money from the political process and return that process to the people, it's had disastrous effects on free speech in this country. Example: say you and 25 of your like-minded buddies find out that the incumbent candidate for a given office in your state has been mouthing support for your cause but, in actuality, has been advancing legislation that undermines it. Your freedom of speech rights make your next move an obvious one: you get the message out as loudly as you can about what this candidate has done. You write letters to the editor, you take out radio, TV, and newspaper ads and you send out direct mailing. If you found that out and performed those actions 6 months before the election, no problem. Congrats, you're part of the political process. Do that under 2 months before the election and, under McCain-Feingold, you and your friends are facing fines and potential jail time.

Read that again. Within 2 months of the elections you are precluded by this law from mentioning the name of a candidate or his record or identifying him in any way. Anything you found out about this guy during that period of time cannot be communicated over the various broadcast media in any way by you.

Now, perhaps you're thinking, "hey, they can't do that. The First Amendment protects free speech!" Interesting thought. Let's look at that Amendment, shall we?

::::::::Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.::::::::

I'm not a lawyer, but I do have a reasonable grasp of the meaning of spoken and written English. When I read "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech...", I take that to mean that Congress is not to make a law restricting the freedom of speech. Seems a slam-dunk to me that this law is DOA should anyone take it to the Supreme Court.

Problem is, someone already did. And the Supreme Court, in their "supreme wisdom" decided that McCain-Feingold was just fine. Nope, no violation of the highest basis of our laws, here. Move along. Judicial remedies are no longer an option, folks. Only Congress can fix this one.

There's a huge reaction from the blogosphere today, as well there should be. I note that Michelle Malkin as a large round-up on the matter and quotes a wide array of bloggers. I am joining her and others in a general call for all of us to get involved and contact the FEC on the matter. Their contact information is: Federal Election Commission, 999 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20463 (800) 424-9530. Contact your elected reps, too, and you might consider popping a note over to Senators McCain and Feingold over the matter as well. Surely this isn't what they had in mind and it's up to them to fix this.