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July 12, 2005
FEC Still Considering Blogger Exemption

The Washington Post updates its readers on the efforts by the FEC to determine whether bloggers deserve the media exemption granted by the McCain-Feingold Act, or BCRA as it is more officially known. Brian Faler reports that the panel has not yet issued a decision and covers the thrust of the commentary received by the panel during its public hearings:

A growing number of the online pundits of various political persuasions are urging the Federal Election Commission to explicitly grant them the same wholesale exemptions from regulations governing contributions to political candidates that mainstream reporters, editorial writers and pundits get.

"I'm troubled by the fact that participants in this emerging medium, which allows anyone the opportunity to participate in the national political discourse at a minimum cost, would face stricter regulation and stronger scrutiny -- along with the potential for ruinous legal expenses -- than would participants in media outlets owned by large corporations such as Time Warner, General Electric and Disney," blogger Duncan Black told the FEC at a hearing late last month. Black, under the pen name Atrios, runs the liberal blog Eschaton.

Mike Krempasky, who runs a Republican blog called, said at the hearing, "What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh's multimillion-dollar talk radio program -- but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience?"

Some, of course, see blogging as a big loophole for political parties and special-interest groups to advertise through deception and straw men:

[O]thers said bloggers engage in all sorts of activities that are generally forbidden in the journalism community -- working for political candidates, for example, or raising money for candidates -- and questioned whether they should be entitled to the same protections.

"Bloggers want it both ways," said Carol Darr, head of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University. "They want to preserve their rights as political activists, donors and even fundraisers -- activities regulated by campaign finance laws -- yet, at the same time, enjoy the broad exemptions from the campaign finance laws afforded to traditional journalists."

She and others said they fear that giving bloggers those protections would create a legal loophole that corporations, unions and wealthy individuals could use to pour big money into politics. A company or union, for example, would be able to create or subsidize elaborate blogs attacking political candidates. Or it could create hard-hitting Web videos that, as the popular "Jib Jab" video ridiculing both President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) indicated last year, can attract large audiences.

This argument makes no sense at all in terms of applying a media exemption. Jay Leno and Jon Stewart have their exemption, and yet no one at the FEC appears particularly concerned about their fundraising for political candidates or their use of their stages as platforms for either endorsing or ridiculing candidates. Leno usually spreads it around, but Stewart has consistently used his pulpit to push a partisan agenda. How about Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, and other comedians who openly target Republicans during their HBO specials? Will the FEC start regulating that as in-kind campaign contributions? The entertainment community spends most of its political efforts in raising money for Democrats. Using Darr's logic, studios and broadcasters should therefore come under BCRA regulation as well.

I don't endorse any of the above. However, I use it to show how destructive the BCRA has become in its zeal to regulate campaign financing by equating speech to money. That's why I believe in the long run, asking for a media exemption can't be our final position, but merely a tactical goal in an overall strategy to eliminate the BCRA altogether. Otherwise, we still have a situation where the government controls who can conduct political speech and under what conditions. Once we've accepted that as a legitimate government function, our hard-won media exemption eventually will give way when the campaign-finance nannies discover that money still makes it into the system.

End the BCRA. That will provide the only guarantee of our rights to free political speech.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 12, 2005 6:00 AM

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Tracked on July 12, 2005 11:50 AM

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