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Democracy in action via blogs

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On the left leaning blog daily kos, democratic Senator Russ Feingold was criticized for not supporting a bill that would have exempted blogs from regulation. Well Feingold responded to the blog and he and the blogger have been going back and forth discussing the issue. Because of this, people like you and I get to hear a politically elected official hash out reasoned discussion of some of their views without presenting the same old crappy fluff. Its good to see this kind of interaction happening in this country. Can you imagine if all politically elected officials interacted with voters in such a manner?


Here it is in its entirity:


1. Today, Sen. Feingold wrote in a diary:

I read with interest Kos's recent post where he writes that I'm someone who wants to restrict blogging. That just isn't true. I respect Kos's opinion and was sorry to read that he has that impression. For my part, I intend to be a force to make sure that vigorous and free-wheeling blogging will continue without interference. After all, I've just begun to blog!





I'm glad to hear that's his view.

And there's no better way for him to prove his commitment to a vigorous and free-wheeling blogosphere than by co-sponsoring the Reid Act (S.678).


Fact is, the FEC promulgated rules that specifically ensured that blogging would be protected without interference. CFR supporters (and Feingold was a lead sponsor) sued to overturn the FEC's rules. The trial judge ordered the FEC to regulate the Internet. Democrats on the FEC refused to appeal that part of the judge's decision.


So it's irrelevant whether Feingold wants a free-wheeling blogosphere without government interference. A federal judge has already stated that the medium MUST be regulated.


So my message to Feingold is simple -- you've stated the importance of a free blogosphere. Now put your words in action by becoming a co-sponsor of S.678.




2. Sen. Feingold says:

One conclusion I don't agree with is that S. 678, Senator Reid's bill that Kos mentioned, is somehow an answer to the issue of blog regulation and that I should sign on to it. Here's how I see that bill:

S. 678 is not just about blogging. It would exempt all communications on the Internet from the definition of "public communication" in the campaign finance laws. That is what the FEC tried to do by regulation after BCRA was passed in 2002. But there was and is no support for that approach in the statute, and the federal court recognized that. I supported the Shays-Meehan lawsuit that led to the ruling that the FEC had improperly applied the law in that and 14 other regulations out of the 19 that were challenged.


If Congress were to enact a statute exempting all Internet communications from regulation, it would open a huge loophole in BCRA's ban on soft money. It would allow, for example, state parties to use unlimited soft money donations to attack Federal candidates on the Internet, using paid advertising and expensive video streaming. It would allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of their shareholders' money denouncing one Federal candidate on websites even if that campaign was designed and directed by that candidate's opponent. Opening this loophole would undo all of the successes of BCRA that we saw in 2004, from increasing the number of small dollar donations to reenergizing the party.




Fair enough. The Internet IS a loophole. But one that is necessary to ensure the success of that all important unfettered and free blogosphere.

Here's the bottom line: I know this medium as good as the next guy. If I wanted to, I could create an entire campaign, paid for by soft corporate dollars, and completely hide every facet of the transaction from the FEC. I could use free blogging tools. I could use servers at overseas locations outside the jurisdiction of the FEC or other US law enforcement. I could create shell companies to hide the money trail, have PR agencies pay for my work (FOIAs, which exposed Armstrong Williams, don't work on federal campaigns), or receive a suitcase with unmarked bills.


In short, there is NO LAW that would ever be able to stop me from launching an astroturf Internet campaign, and no law that would ever force my identity or that of my sponsors to be exposed. If Feingold thinks his legislation will somehow find a way to regulate the Internet, then he is sadly mistaken. I'm not the only one with these skills.


But here's the other thing -- the Internet is not like broadcast. There is no scarcity issues. Corporations and big money do not have an advantage over grassroot and netroots voices. While broadcast media pushes content on viewers, whether they are interested or not, the Internet is a pull medium -- people have to generally seek your content. That's why the ardent political junkies are online, while television is used to reach the apathetic.


Can a bunch of concerned citizens launch a wave of pro-social security television ads? Of course not. Can a wave of concerned citizens launch sites supporting social security? Of course, and we have dozens of them to prove the point. And in fact, citizen activism has, by and large, proven far more successful than anything sponsored by big money.


The Internet is a medium that allows anyone to be a journalist or an activist. We can fight Big Money on this medium and win, and we have been doing so.


What's going to happen, if the FEC attempts to regulate the medium, is that people who are openly and legitimately engaging in online activism can be shut down by frivolous complaints, while the truly nefarious forces will be doing what I describe above -- working in the shadows and using the web's inherent anonymity to ply their dirty wares with impunity.


Feingold further writes:


Blogs should be able, however, to do whatever they like, say what they want, and link to whoever and whatever they want, with no interference. And bloggers should be allowed to profit. From the looks of the posts I see that many people believe that if bloggers are being paid by a campaign, they should have to disclose that, no matter how big they are - and that should be the responsibility of both the campaign and blogger. I think that is a fair thing to consider. I think that in this area disclosure, not restriction, is the probably best policy, and Kos agrees with that because he had his own disclaimer during the last election.

I don't understand how he can say that blogs should be able to "do whatever they like, say what they want, and link to whoever and whatever they want, with no interference", when just a sentence or two later he says that bloggers should have to disclose ties to campaigns. That's unacceptable, and something that applies to no other medium. There is an issue of fairness involved. Because last time I checked, I didn't see Luntz disclosing his clients while on TV, or Carville. Or any of the lot with their tangled conflicts of interest.

So I don't agree. My disclaimer was my own choice, not that of the government.


But moving beyond that, what is a blogger? Daily Kos is a blog, but unlike most other blogs. Is Drudge a blog? Some say he is. I don't, but that doesn't mean he should be treated any differently than bloggers.


What about the Free Republic and Democratic Underground? Those aren't blogs. But they shouldn't be treated any differently.


And what about TAPPED. It's a blog, but run by a magazine. Should it be treated any differently because it's affiliated with a dead paper publication? And then there are blogs that are incorporated as business, be it Daily Kos, SB Nation, or the sites run by Jason Calcanis and Nick Denton. Does the fact that they are incorporated change matters? According to CFR it does. But should it, especially since more and more bloggers (like me) will have to incorporate to protect their assets from potential libel lawsuits? What about blogs run by PACs, 527s, or Big Corporations?


I don't doubt that Feingold wants to protect the blogosphere, but it's an idealized version of the blogosphere, one where everyone knows your (real) name and there are clean money trails. In broadcast, it's easy to find out who paid for an ad. On the Internet, it can be made impossible.


And I don't think Feingold realizes how blurry the lines are in this medium between things like blogs, message boards, bulletin boards, mailing lists, activism centers, and any hybrids thereof. You can't target any of these types of sites without affecting other types of sites.


And if there's one thing we know for a fact -- the FEC HAS to regulate the Internet. It has no choice. Feingold, his allies (including every Democrat on the FEC), and the district court ruling on the case have given the FEC no leeway on the matter.


So once again, whether Feingold intends or not (and I don't believe he does), his actions will lead to a regulated blogosphere, even if indirectly. And once that happens, it will drive those seeking to pump money into the medium underground, while exposing those of us up in the light of day to malicious complaints and undue government interference.


If clear lines of abuse show up online, then subsequent legislation can be crafted, without the imminent deadline of FEC regulations, that addresses those abuses. Until then, any attempt to mess with this medium is an attempt to mess with what we are building here on Daily Kos.


Update: Krempasky has more problems with the proposed regulations over at RedState. (Strange bedfellows and all...)


Update II: Oh, and I should really make this clear -- I think it's awesome that Feingold is engaging us in this debate here, in this public forum. If this is a sign of things to come for this medium, where we can debate policy with those in charge of making policy, then our future is extremely bright.


Doesn't mean we'll agree all the time. Obviously, we won't. But if there's a 'best way' to deal with such disagreements, this is it.



btw, Kos also wrote out a long thing on how much he respects Feingold for this.

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