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November 2, 2005
House Defeats Blogger Speech Bill

Despite the efforts of bloggers in promoting an exception to the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance rules for on-line punditry, the House has defeated the measure on a procedural vote. The lower chamber turned down the measure, already passed by the Senate, by failing to gather the needed two-thirds majority to overcome technical obstacles placed in its path by original BCRA sponsors Christopher Shays (R) and Marty Meehan (D):

Online political expression should not be exempt from campaign finance law, the House decided Wednesday as lawmakers warned that the Internet has opened up a new loophole for uncontrolled spending on elections.

The House voted 225-182 for a bill that would have excluded blogs, e-mails and other Internet communications from regulation by the
Federal Election Commission. That was 47 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed under a procedure that limited debate time and allowed no amendments.

The vote in effect clears the way for the FEC to move ahead with court-mandated rule-making to govern political speech and campaign spending on the Internet.

Opposition was led by Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., who with Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., championed the 2002 campaign finance law that banned unlimited "soft money" contributions that corporations, unions and individuals were making to political parties.

The bill did get a majority of the vote, but thanks to heavy Democratic opposition, it failed to gather the supermajority needed to overcome the Shays-Meehan procedural block. Of the 225 supporting votes, only 46 came from Democrats. Of the 182 opposing the measure, only 40 came from Republicans.

I don't want to unnecessarily turn this free speech issue into a partisan battle, as this fight has united the blogosphere across the political spectrum, and I want to see that dynamic continue. Harry Reid, after all, originally introduced this legislation to the Senate and deserves credit for his efforts. However, when one sees the roll call vote, the partisan split on free speech appears rather obvious. One party voted 179-38 for the bill, and the other voted 143-46 against it. (Bernie Sanders, Socialist, provided the other Nay vote.)

Both houses of Congress promise to return to this topic with a narrower exemption for bloggers, and the blogosphere will welcome that. It still doesn't address the real defect of the BCRA, though, which regulates political speech by treating it as a purchasable commodity. The First Amendment specifically protected the free exercise of political speech, and yet under the BCRA the First Amendment now offers more protection to nude dancing and pornography than it does to political candidates who want to communicate with prospective constituents.

Somehow, I don't think it takes an originalist to understand just how wrong that result is.

UPDATE: In the interest of cleaning our own house, here are the Republicans who voted against the bill:

Bradley (NH).....Johnson (CT)...Ramstad........Walden (OR)
Castle...........Johnson (IL)...Regula.........Walsh
Emerson..........LaHood.........Schmidt........Weldon (PA)
Frelinghuysen....LaTourette.....Schwarz........Wilson (NM)
Gillmor..........Osborne........Smith (NJ).....

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 2, 2005 8:03 PM

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