Patterico's Pontifications


A Lone Voice in the Wilderness

Filed under: Civil Liberties — Patterico @ 10:25 pm

I realize that this puts me at odds with just about every blogger in the known universe, but I don’t intend to sign the online petition seeking a “blogging exemption” from FEC regulation.

I object to carving out blogging as an exception to a patently unconstitutional law. For example, I don’t like language like this:

While paid political advertising on the Internet should remain subject to FEC rules and regulations, curtailing blogs and other online publications will dampen the impact of new voices in the political process and will do a disservice to the millions of voters who rely on the web for original, insightful political commentary.

I disagree with this, to the extent that “paid political advertising” includes political speech by individuals — whether it takes place on or off the internet; and whether or not it is done in “coordination” with a candidate or campaign.

In my view, political speech is speech at the core of the First Amendment. Neither the FEC nor any other government agency has any right to regulate it in any way. When my right to engage in such speech is threatened, my impulse is not to seek out a law carving out some exception for my speech. My impulse is to tell those responsible that they can go to hell.

Look at the big picture, folks. This isn’t about our precious Internet. It’s about the very concept of free speech.

What we’re seeing is not a crazy offshoot of campaign finance “reform” legislation. It’s a logical consequence of it. Something this important can’t be handled by legislation, and left to the whims of lawmakers and regulators. It is a constitutional issue, and affects all free speech. We must treat it that way.

Is anyone out there with me?

Anyone at all?

32 Responses to “A Lone Voice in the Wilderness”

  1. […] Beldar e-mails to say that he tried to leave the following comment on this post below, regarding my decision not to sign the online petition oppo […]

    Patterico's Pontifications » Beldar on the Online Petition (0c6a63)

  2. […] Beldar e-mails to say that he tried to leave the following comment on this post below, regarding my decision not to sign the online petition oppo […]

    Patterico's Pontifications » Beldar on the Online Petition (0c6a63)

  3. […] 2005

    I Object! By Golly, I Object!

    Catching up here, a few days ago, Patterico posted his objections to the FreedomSight (1e09c7)

  4. […] an exemption recognizes the validity of the law in the first place.” That is why I have argued against signing the online petition asking our masters to grant […]

    Patterico's Pontifications » “Reassuring” Remarks on FEC Regulation That Should Deeply Trouble You (0c6a63)

  5. […] egulation of political speech on the Internet is something to be fought. But how? I have repeatedly argued that asking the FEC for a media exemption is nothing more […]

    Patterico's Pontifications » What To Do About the Tyranny of Government Regulation of Speech (0c6a63)

  6. Feeding a few free-speech maidens to the dragon isn’t going to save the town of Bloggerdom. It’s time to fight for the death of the original “Reform Act” that has done nothing but make a mockery of our free speech rights.
    I too went to the petition site, and decided I couldn’t sign it. I’m with you, Patterico.

    Boman (051023)

  7. There’s an interesting issue with the Apple lawsuit demanding a blogger reveal his source.

    The shield law which protects journalists from revealing their sources is unworkable. With this new blogism, you need to classify everyone as a journalist and repeal the law/ruling granting journalists an exception from testifying.

    It can’t work that every subpoenaed citizen can claim an excemption from disclosing where information was obtained.

    I’ve always been a fan of unlimited speech (political tv commercials), as long as the backer is disclosed. The problem with this is the backers are reported as “Americans Against Anal Sex with Donkeys”. Fix that!

    Ladainian (91b3b2)

  8. Your point is well taken. The statement you quote, however, attempts to differentiate the current law, as supported by the Supremes, from the threatened extension to private unpaid speech by members of the public. As a matter of principle, I disagree strongly with the current law. As a matter of law, it is what the Supremes say it is.

    As I pointed out on my site, even if you accept the notion that the Republic needs protection from the manipulations of corporations and the rich, it’s quite another thing entirely to attack the common man’s speech. When you do that the “Money is not speech” meme fails utterly, and it’s just naked restriction of speech.

    Matter of fact, given the “money is not speech” canard, it makes more sense, constitutionally Supreme-Court-wise, to muzzle the NY Times than, say, Patterico.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  9. I’m with you. There continues to be be apparent confusion between the rights that are inherent in the American people -such as free speech – and those that another form of government can deign to bestow on its people. The First Amendment recognizes that distinction. Seeking an “exception” to a law that violates the First Amendment implicitly reverses the power of the American citizen to speak or write freely without seeking government permission first, a very dangerous proposition and exceptionally dangerous precedent indeed. Keep up the good fight!

    EagleSpeak (0d84c2)

  10. I did sign, but I totally agree with you that the internet is precisely the soapbox forum that was envisioned by the founding fathers in the First Amendment, ESPECIALLY AT ELECTION TIME.

    My question, however, is whether there is a way to appeal the ruling if the FEC remains deadlocked. Can other parties, not part of the original case but affected by it, move this forward for further review?

    Corky Boyd
    Sanibel FL

    Corky Boyd (4215fa)

  11. To me it couldn’t be more obvious that McCain-Feingold is unconstitutional, “political” speech is free speech, money is speech, and I get to say what I want on the Internet as much as I do on a street corner or behind closed doors, within the limits of harm. Trying to limit or control “campaign contributions” by citizens/corporations/interest groups is absurd – except for forced contributions. I’m irritated.

    I don’t really care what the Supreme Court says about it. If I am governed, I get to speak. Otherwise the deal is off. Did I mention I’m leaked?

    J. Peden (ffccb8)

  12. Everybody’s a blogger
    I’ve been chewing over the “Online Coalition” petition for a couple of days now, not really sure what to think

    The Shape of Days (af7df9)

  13. Patrick, I agree that the petition isn’t something I want to sign, but I have slightly different reasons.

    Thanks for posting this and helping me clarify my own ideas on the subject.

    Jeff Harrell (a5b150)

  14. Patterico,

    For what it’s worth, this Canuckle-headed Canadian agrees w/you.

    Once you acknowledge that the govt has the right to regulate speech, you’re hooped. The only q is how fast the degeneration then proceeds, but its conclusion cannout be be in doubt. Good on you for saying so.

    ras (482403)

  15. Vox clamantis in deserto, the Dartmouth College motto. You have it exactly right.

    Ed McCabe (a10622)

  16. “in any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one that wins
    –Ayn Rand

    Ms. Rand – coldly-logical analyst that she was – got that one exactly right. And, if we accept at all the principle of govt regulation of speech, then McCain’s becomes the more consistent position.

    He says that the govt regulation is necessary to ensure equally-free speech all around. If you try to compromise with such people, you are implicitly agreeing with his principles, and the remaining arguments reduce to the details of regulation.

    ras (482403)

  17. I can see why you dislike “while paid political advertising on the Internet should remain subject to FEC rules and regulations…” but I think the spirit is right even if the letter is wrong. What they’re trying to say, I think, is something more along the lines of “we’re not going to tackle the greater issue of regulating paid political ads, except to say that of course paid ads on the Internet should be treated the same way as paid ads distributed through other channels.”

    Xrlq (c51d0d)

  18. Xrlq,

    With full disclosure of who’s financing a candidate or movement, the voters can regulate what they want, for themselves, directly at the ballot box, rather than having unelected bureaucrats making that decision for them.

    Go for disclosure, not regulation. Never regulation. Disclosure is more tenable, desirable, and consistent. It also makes a saleable summation to present to the voters: “disclosure, not suppression.” Betcha a huge majority would agree with that hands-down, if presented in just such terms, and M-F could be defeated on just such grounds. IMHO.

    ras (482403)

  19. It astonishes me that Presient Bush appoints Ellen Weintraub as a recess appointment to the FEC as a favor to McCain so that he will not obstruct the judicial appointment process.

    The President has a few appointments coming up on the FEC, doesn’t he?

    So, legislate McCain-Feingold away and in the meantime appoint free speech advocates to the FEC and meanwhile appoint judges who when this ludicrous matter comes before them tosses the entire law into the ash heap of the past.

    Flap (6c75cb)

  20. I’m with Patterico on this one. I originally thought Bush signed campaign finance “reform” to get away from the issue while believing it would be struck down as unconstitutional. How could it possibly be the case that freedom of speech applies to all speech but political speech? It is just so ridiculous.

    I mostly wanted to point a great article on the money behind campaign finance “reform” at Tech Central Station:

    (BTW, but doesn’t Sager look like he’s about 12?)

    motionview (cef836)

  21. Forgive my intrusion into this amen-corner of triumphalism, but… didn’t the Supreme Court already rule that McCain-Feingold was constitutional?

    I agree with you completely, Pat that this was a terrible decision: but it was decided. As a friend of mine learned in law school, the Supreme Court may not always be right, but they are always final.

    The only place left to fight this is in the legislature. And there simply is no way that the 109th Congress is going to repeal the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Granting exemptions is the best we can do right now… at least until McCain is out of the Senate (one hopes he won’t be another Robert Byrd or Strom Thurmond).

    The question is, should we fight as we can and hang on until we’re on better ground? Or should we throw everything away on a useless gesture whose assured outcome is even less liberty than we have today?

    The Brits evacuated from Dunkirk, rather than stay and be annihilated. MacArthur left the Philippines but declared he would return.

    (This is quite similar to what I’ve heard some radical pro-lifers say: if the Republicans ran someone who was even slightly pro-choice, they would run to vote for a third-party candidate, even if that threw the election to a John Kerry or a Hillary Rodham. Death before compromise!)

    Even Ayn Rand understood the theory of relativity anent politics — it’s the art of the possible, not the charge of the light brigade. We need to fight; but we need to pick battles that are winnable.

    And after racking up a few victories, we’ll be in a much better position to launch an assault on the enemy stronghold, the BCRA itself… either in Congress or in the Court itself — if there has been a significant change, such as the retirement of the eighty-four year old Justice Stevens or the seventy-four year old Justice O’Connor, who wrote the majority opinion upholding Titles I and II (II is the one relating to “electioneering communications”). Either one of them leaving the Court and being replaced by a believer in freedom of speech could make it possible for the Court to reverse itself — but they’re both still sitting there.

    The other concurring justices were Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, of whom only one, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is even in her seventies… and unlike O’Connor, she has expressed no interest in retirement.


    Dafydd (df2f54)

  22. Ras, I agree. I oppose campaign finance “reform” in all of its forms. Nevertheless, I think that the idea of regulating private blogs is an order of magnitude worse than limiting the amount of money any given person can contribute to any given candidate in any given election.

    Xrlq (c51d0d)

  23. Is anyone out there with me?

    Anyone at all?

    Well yeah kinda. You’re absolutely right about McCain-Feingld being an outrageous restriction of free speech rights.

    But it’s going to be a heckuva lot harder to fight that abysmal law if we’re silenced, too.

    Christopher Rake (f9677b)

  24. Xrlq,

    Agreed. Regulating the money is more futile than harmful, as the 527’s made clear. Regulating the speech is the real threat. They’re gonna try, tho.

    ras (482403)

  25. That Online Coalition thing
    About 2500 bloggers and readers of blogs have so far signed the Online Coalition’s letter to FEC chair Scott Thomas requesting an exemption for blogs to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform… (5a1bcd)

  26. While I am fully against abridgement of free speech, I do see blatantly partisan messages being posted constantly on well-read sites, and as a political liberal during the campaign never posted a positive message without being immediately followed by a negative diatribe by several neocons with violent language on some sites. It seems that some limitation of this kind of activity, such as C-Span’s refusing to take calls any more often than 30 days apart, might be a desirable arrangement.

    Ruth (8f28a2)

  27. I disagree with you. I signed it. But I will fight for your right to tell us dumb things. If we follow you blindly it is more our fault than yours.

    Rod Stanton (da951e)

  28. PATTERICO is right about
    this one. Xrlq headlines his link to the post “Permission to Speak Freely, Sir!”….

    PRESTOPUNDIT (84db7a)

  29. Great points. I (almost) want to take my signature back. Almost.

    What of course needs to happen is complete repeal of CFR, which the foolish Bushies thought the Supremes would do for them. Oops.

    Tom Blumer (210b95)

  30. Reading the Fine Print
    Even that brave warrior, John Kerry, trembles before the great pajama-clad unwashed.“… there’s a subculture and a sub-media that talks and keeps things going for entertainment purposes rather than for the flow of information. And that has a profou…

    baldilocks (af7df9)

  31. […] Patterico has staked out his position as a lone voice in the wilderness against the online petition urging the FedEC to carve out a blogger exception to the McCain-Feingold monstrosity. His view is largely summed up in this post, where he famously pronouced that: They’ll have to pry this keyboard from my cold dead hands before I am going to “register” with the government for permission to state my personal views without fear of prosecution. […]

    damnum absque injuria » Permission to Speak Freely, Sir! (38c04c)

  32. […] That is why I have repeatedly opposed a media exemption for bloggers, describing such an exemption as “nothing more than asking our masters for permission to speak.” And I have created a Free Speech Pledge that numerous bloggers have signed. Feel free to sign on; the more the merrier. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » McCain/Feingold Incumbent Protection Period Has Started (421107)

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