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March 4, 2005
Bradley Smith/NRA News Interview At Redstate

Redstate has a transcript of FEC commissioner Bradley Smith's interview with Cam Edwards of NRA News. Smith explains why the ruling in their courtroom loss could mean bad news for bloggers:

CS: Well, let me tell you some of the potential ramifications. I mean, some of the folks now, uh McCain and some of his allies, are out saying, Well, this would only apply to paid ads. Thats juthe FEC already treats paid ads as subject to the act. But nothing in the judges decision limits it to paid advertising, and it, she says anything thats coordinated, for sure we have to regulate. Now, what is coordinated under FEC regulations? Any republication of campaign material counts as a coordinated complication. That means, for a blogger, if you put up anything, or ah, from a campaign onto the blogsite, thats going to be republication of campaign material. If you get an email from a campaign because youre on their list, and you then forward it to 50 or 100 friends, that would be potentially subject to the act. ...

CS: Well, I, I dont want to comment on, on Judge Koller-Cotellas opinion, I mean, it speaks for itself. She orders us to regulate the Internet, again what I point out is -- it is in no way limited to paid advertising. In fact, it would be contrary to the tone of the opinions limited only to paid advertising. In another part of the opinion, she struck down one of our regulations where we exempted unpaid advertising. So, I, you know, this was, its its in no ways limited to unpaid advertising. Beyond that, I dont want to comment on what she was thinking, her opinion, I guess, can speak for itself. Uh, but it requires us to do some regulating here, and we did not have the votes to appeal that portion of the opinion.

What's at issue is whether blog posts, hyperlinks, and excerpted text -- or in some cases, fully copied position points -- could be considered unpaid advertising. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out that it could. In fact, with blogs so easy to start and so difficult to trace, the FEC would have to look at them for the so-called unpaid advertising eventually. Otherwise, campaigns could easily start phantom blogs with anonymous authors to drum up traffic, or at least they could co-opt known blogs for that purpose without revealing the business connection. We saw some of that in 2004 already.

Some have said that the FEC won't have the personnel to track down these kinds of violations, even if they did make them illegal, a valid point. However, all that means is that they will rely on complaints to reveal violators -- a system that in itself provides the biggest danger to bloggers. People who want to sabotage a particular blogger only need to organize a swarm of FEC complaints about the blog; enough complaints, and the FEC will eventually make its way to investigating the blogger.

Based on the ruling and the general attitude of bureaucracies, I don't doubt for a second that the blogger would be forced to prove the negative and satisfy the FEC that no coordination exists, rather than the FEC having to prove it does. Either way, those bloggers who find themselves caught in the FEC's net would have to spend significant amounts of time and money defending themselves from what boils down to a campaign audit. The spectre of that much red tape and time wasted will discourage all but the most obsessive bloggers from participating in the political arena.

Keep checking back at Redstate for more of the interview as they transcribe it.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 4, 2005 8:50 PM

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