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Online Freedom of Speech Act

H.R. 1606, known as the Online Freedom of Speech Act, comes up for a vote Wednesday in the House of Representatives. The act would protect people such as myself from the evil Federal Election Commission, which has proposed regulations which would stifle free speech on the Internet in the guise of campaign finance reform.

The New York Times cast the bill in the opposing light:

Now looms a wolfish assault in sheep’s clothing: the Online Freedom of Speech Act, which House Republican leaders are suddenly planning to put to a vote on Wednesday so politicians can abuse the Internet as an unregulated outlet for multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. The bill, put on a fast track in the hope that nobody notices outside the political-industrial complex, would exempt the Internet from the hard-won three-year-old reform law that stopped federal officials from tapping corporations, unions and fat cats for unregulated donations in the quid pro quo marketplace.

The reform law’s ban on such “soft money’ abuses would continue for political ads on radio and television and in print. But the Internet would become a free-fire zone without any limits on spending or reporting requirements. The bill uses freedom of speech as a fig leaf, pasted on in the guise of defending political bloggers from government censorship. In fact, bloggers face no such threat under the existing campaign law. — New York Times

Bloggers are indeed under no such threat under the existing campaign law. It’s the FEC’s rewrite of campaign finance regulations that it’s undertaken which threatens bloggers.

Under existing law, members of the media are exempted from these regulations. The FEC would explicitly deny that exemption to bloggers.

What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh’s multimillion-dollar talk radio program — but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience? — Mike Krempasky (RedState.org)

The pending legislation is necessary to prevent the FEC from issuing new regulations regarding online communications. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act only applies to television and radio and does not mention the Internet. As a result of a court ruling, the FEC plans to issue a new set of regulations that would cover online communications.

The proposed regulations would turn group blogs into regulated “political committees,’ thereby imposing a “code of ethics’ regulating bloggers than of talk radio hosts or newspaper columnists. It will decree the amount of time we can spend at work participating in politics online, and label links to candidate Web sites as “in-kind’ contributions subject to reporting requirements according to the National Law Journal.

The FEC is trying to fix a non-existent problem. The bureaucratic rationale behind extending its regulations to online communications is to prevent abuse. A blanket exemption would allow the unregulated coordination among state or local committees of political parties; political action committees or 527 organizations; and candidates, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

The Internet empowers the average citizen to make their voice heard in the political process. Any individual can set up their own website relatively quickly, and instantaneously reaching millions of potential readers. The Internet also gives power to small-dollar donors and magnifies their impact, as Howard Dean’s presidential bid demonstrated according to the National Law Journal. — LP Blog

The Federal Election Commission has no business telling me what I can talk about, how long I can spend doing it, how much money I can put into my Web site, or who I can or cannot link to. And the New York Times editorial staff needs to learn that we’re as much the press as they are.

Urge your representative in Congress to vote yes on H.R. 1606. (Hat tip to Hit and Run.)

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