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March 13, 2005
Join The Online Coalition For Free Speech!

I am proud to be an original signatory to the Online Coalition, a group of bloggers from across the political spectrum which intends on fighting any encroachment on our right to free and unfettered political debate. Today members of our group presented FEC chairman Scott Thomas with our concerns over the direction the FEC will take in regulating Internet speech, as regards the lawsuit brought by Shays-Meehan. Here is our letter:

We are concerned about the potential impact that Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotellys decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Shays v. FEC, 337 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 2004) and the FECs upcoming rulemaking process may have on political communication on the Internet.

One area of great concern is the potential regulation of bloggers and other online journalists who distribute political news and commentary exclusively over the web. While paid political advertising on the Internet should remain subject to FEC rules and regulations, curtailing blogs and other online publications will dampen the impact of new voices in the political process and will do a disservice to the millions of voters who rely on the web for original, insightful political commentary.

Under the current rules, any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, is exempt from reporting and coordination requirements. It is not clear, however, that the FECs media exemption provides sufficient protection for those of us in the online journalism community.

As bipartisan members of the online journalism, blogging, and advertising community, we ask that you grant blogs and online publications the same consideration and protection as broadcast media, newspapers, or periodicals by clearly including them under the Federal Election Commissions media exemption rule.

In order to ensure that there are sufficient measures taken, we also request that the FEC promulgate a rule exempting unpaid political activity on the Internet from regulation, thereby guaranteeing every Americans right to speak freely and participate in our democratic process.

Finally, we ask that you clarify the rules and definitions related to coordinated activity to protect bloggers and journalists from running afoul of Commission rules regarding the republication of campaign materials.

The Internet is a fundamental tool in the American political process. Just this week, we learned that 75 million Americans used the Internet to gather news, read commentary, discuss issues, register to vote, and generally join in the democratic process during the last election cycle. We believe the Internet is the primary driving force behind increased participation among traditionally under-represented groups of voters, and we applaud the Federal Election Committee for crafting rules that have allowed the Internet to flourish as a political communications medium.

Like the town hall meeting, online political activism is a vital part of American civic life. We encourage the FEC to provide bloggers, online journalists, and everyday cyber-citizens with the same freedoms that individuals and traditional journalists are free to exercise elsewhere. The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 was intended to prevent unlimited soft money contributions and regulate electioneering advertising, not to stifle free speech or grassroots activities on the Internet that serve the common good.

Bloggers as diverse as MyDD and Daily Kos as well as CQ, Michelle Malkin, and Kevin McCullough comprise the original signatories. When we have unity among bloggers this diverse, I guarantee you that Congress will take some notice, even if the FEC does not.

You can also sign onto the Online Coalition. Go to the website and register to add your voices in defense of the blogosphere and the First Amendment. We may be conservatives and liberals, centrists and radicals, but we're all Americans -- and no one tells us that we have to keep our mouths shut about politics. We'll be glad to have you on board.

UPDATE and BUMP, 7:41 PM CT: Glenn Reynolds posts about the forum in which he participated on the FEC and campaign regulation. Previously, Professor Reynolds remained skeptical that the Shays-Meehan v. FEC decision would have any real impact on blogging, but hearing FEC chairman Scott Thomas changed his mind:

Scott Thomas, chairman of the FEC, spoke before me. He opened with some rather uncharitable remarks regarding fellow commissioner Brad Smith's comments on FEC regulation of blogs, but followed up with a discussion of FEC intent that, although it was supposed to be reassuring, actually left me thinking that the FEC was thinking more seriously about regulating blogs than I had previously believed. I wasn't reassured at all, and the complexity of the reasoning he outlined just illustrated how much discretion -- and how little real guidance -- the FEC has on these kinds of questions.

That led me to open by saying that Thomas's remarks were the most cogent argument I've heard for the abolition of the FEC. And they were. If you think that there can be objective, predictable, and unintrusive regulation of political speech, well -- read the transcript of his remarks and see if you still think so.

Wizbang will be posting the transcript shortly. In the meantime, read all of Glenn's comments on the speech.

UPDATE and BUMP: Redstate has the transcript, and I have a new link to the Online Coalition in the sidebar. In answer to some comments, anyone can sign onto the Online Coalition, regardless of whether you have a blog. Be sure to sign and support First Amendment rights to free and unfettered political speech!

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 13, 2005 12:18 PM

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