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November 3, 2005
A Reply From One Republican Vote Against Free Speech

CQ reader Ed C used some personal connections to get a specific response from one of the Republicans that voted against the blogger exemption to the BCRA last night. Todd Platts represents Pennsylvania's CD-19, which includes York and Mechanicsburg, and normally provides a solid center-right vote for the Republicans. Platt's office gave Ed C this response to explain why the normally reliable GOP politician voted against free speech:

I strongly support free speech on the Internet, just as I do on the airwaves and in the public square. Blogs and other Internet communications are an exciting and growing aspect of our democratic system. They provide a forum for debate and a low-cost means of promoting candidates and ideas. At the same time, without the application of any campaign finance restrictions to the Internet (as proposed by H.R. 1606), corporations and unions could improperly funnel undisclosed contributions of exceedingly large sums to parties and candidates in the form of on-line political advertisements.

As the last election cycle demonstrated, the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act has been successful in reducing the role of large, undisclosed "soft money" contributions to political parties and candidates without diminishing free speech in any way. As such, I voted against H.R. 1606, which would have undermined the 2002 law by creating a new, potentially huge soft money loophole.

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is currently drafting regulations aimed at protecting the free speech rights of bloggers and others using the Internet, while also maintaining the requirement that only "hard money" be used by political parties, corporations, and unions for paid election ads. I believe the development of these regulations should be allowed to proceed. In addition, Representatives Chris Shays and Martin Meehan have introduced legislation (H.R. 4194) which would protect the free speech rights of bloggers without creating a soft money loophole. The House should consider this or similar legislation as an alternative to H.R. 1606.

Platts does put his mouth from where his money comes. Open Secrets notes that Platts almost exclusively accepts only individual contributions to his campaigns. In his last election, 99.4% of his funds came in as "hard money", and the remainder probably came out of his own pocket. He returned a $500 PAC contribution at one point in the last electoral cycle.

I accept that Platts acted out of sincere belief rather than a hope of incumbency protection. Nevertheless, the BCRA hardly could be described as successful in keeping out large sums of money, as Platts implies in his statement. In Congressional races alone, PACs contributed $234 million dollars, an average of more than a half-million in each race. George Soros wrote $27 million in checks alone for his efforts to unseat George Bush and drive the GOP out of power, money that apparently couldn't buy a message for the Democrats. That accounted for over a third of all funds raised by the House for election campaigns.

Platts promises us that a narrower exemption for bloggers will shortly come under consideration as a replacement for H.R. 1606. Instead, Platts needs to re-read the First Amendment and ask why bloggers need an "exemption" to engage in political speech during an election campaign -- and for that matter, why any American should require one under any circumstances. We'd hate to have to oppose a solid Republican for Congress in the future, but we might need to see if the Keystone State's CD-19 can produce a primary opponent that understands the meaning of free political speech.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 3, 2005 9:32 PM

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Tracked on November 4, 2005 2:00 PM



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