Congress Denies Free Speech to Blogs
The House voted 225-182 for an amendment that would have exempted blogs and other Internet venues from campaign finance laws; unfortunately, a 2/3 majority was needed.
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.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., writing Wednesday on a blog he recently started, said the bill “is about all the folks out in the blogosphere. It’s going to protect what you say. It keeps the hand of the federal government out of Internet speech.”
But Meehan said no one wants to regulate bloggers. He said he and Shays have an alternative that would protect the free speech rights of bloggers while closing the cyberspace loophole where a lawmaker could vote for a prescription drug bill and then ask pharmaceutical interests to write six-figure checks for campaign ads for them to run on the Internet.
Meehan’s loophole argument makes sense and it may well be that the follow-on law will clarify the issue of political blogging. There is no obvious reason why bloggers should not have the same rights as those who write for newspapers or even online magazines such as Slate.com.
Glenn Reynolds has a good roundup of reactions to the vote, including a diary entry at Red State from Rep. Jeb Hensarling noting, “I am encouraged that this important legislation received the support of a clear bipartisan majority. Most Members of Congress support protecting free speech on the Internet.” I think that’s right and that the blogger issue will be resolved before the election.
The problem is really with the campaign finance laws themselves. Many on the Left and the Right have been arguing for years that restrictions on political contributions amount to restrictions on free speech itself. This episode just highlights how true that is.