Thursday, March 16, 2006
When Congress passed McCain-Feingold in 2002, it opened the door to seriously undermining the principles of free speech and association. Now, the regulations that have already been applied to TV and radio may soon extend to the Internet as the FEC begins the process of applying campaign finance law to the blogosphere. In an effort to protect bloggers, the House Administration Committee unanimously reported the Online Freedom of Speech Act (HR 1606) to the House floor. Although a vote was expected today, the bill failed to make it to the floor and will be rescheduled for after recess.
The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Nevertheless, in 2003, five Supreme Court Justices ruled that reducing the “appearance of a corrupting influence” of political contributions was more important than deference to the Constitution.
In 2002, the FEC voted to exempt the Internet from regulations under McCain-Feingold, but a U.S. District Judge overturned that decision last fall, claiming that excluding the Internet from the coordinated communications regulation would severely undermine the law. Now the FEC is under a court order to finalize rules that would apply McCain-Feingold to the Internet. They were expected to announce these regulations next week, but may wait on the 1606 decision.
As blogs have increased in popularity, millions of Americas go online everyday to express their political view-points, challenge the media’s depiction of certain issues and engage in open debate – blurring the distinctions between bloggers and journalists. This is good for democracy. Given how widespread the use of blogs and other online forums have become, regulations on Internet speech would be especially burdensome. Imposing restrictions on Internet communications would not only undermine the First Amendment, it would deal a huge blow to grass roots advocacy.
If Congress fails to act and the FEC is forced to regulate Internet communications, bloggers could face many obstacles to exercising free speech. Any activity that involves advocating for a political candidate including linking a home page to a politician’s website, reiterating or reproducing a portion of a candidate’s campaign material, or emailing information in support of a political candidate around election time could put a blogger in jeopardy of violating federal election laws.
Let's hope those voting have more sense than those on the Supreme Court who upheld this horrible bill in the first place.