Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

March 29, 2006

I thank the FEC for FREEING us!

by Brad Warbiany

FEC Frees All Web Political Communication Except Paid Ads

Eric chastised me about the title to this post, where I improperly used language and claimed the government had rights. As such, I need to point out this gaffe before even addressing the meat of this article. The FEC did not give us Freedom. They only lifted their (immediate) threat of immorally infringing upon our freedom.

Yesterday’s unanimous Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruling on Internet political communication places paid online advertising in the category of “public communication,” subject to campaign finance laws. Bloggers, Web pundits, and all other Internet communicators, however, get carte blanche.

Prominent bloggers are hailing the FEC decision, which affords them the same exemption from campaign finance restrictions that is afforded offline media like TV, radio and newspapers. Indeed, even when individuals who run Web sites accept payment from a federal candidate, political party committee or other political committee, no disclaimer is required. Also, according to the FEC document, public communication doesn’t include republished campaign material that is placed on an individual’s Web site, blog or e-mail, so it’s not considered “coordinated communication.”

So, they’ve accepted as legitimate the idea that they decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t, and how. While I am somehow now a member of a privileged class (“the media”), I still do not accept the government’s power to decide who can and cannot speak. If they can decide today that bloggers are part of the media, they can just as easily decide the opposite in the future.

I refuse to acknowledge their power to infringe upon my right to speak. That is my position, regardless of which way the FEC decides. And should they have decided otherwise, I would have been forced to disobey.

The game is not over. I do not believe it is right to leave these decisions in the hands of unelected bureaucrats at the FEC. H.R. 1606 is still active. After the FEC ruling, it could still be voted upon, or it might simply go away. It is time to make sure it does not go away. I am sending this letter (by fax) to my Congressman, Tom Price. I suggest all of you do the same, as we need to send a message that this is illegitimate in the first place.

Dear Rep. Price,

As you may be aware, the FEC recently ruled that blogs and other online communication, with the exception of paid political advertisements, will not be regulated as a part of the Bipartisan Campain Reform Act (BCRA). At the same time, Rep. Hensarling had introduced the Online Freedom of Speech Act (HR 1606) to ensure that online communication would be wholly exempted from the BCRA.

Understandably, there was a lot of political pressure to pass HR 1606 before the FEC released its ruling on Monday. As a result of that ruling, it is likely that much of this pressure will subside. Regardless, it is my belief that HR 1606 should still be voted upon in the House and passed. The FEC has determined that it is the arbiter of what should and should not be regulated as political speech under the BCRA. While they may have decided today to bow to politics and not regulate online communication, there is no guarantee that they won’t change their minds next month or next year, when they are no longer in the spotlight of public opinion.

The way to ensure that the FEC does not change its ruling is for the Congress to make sure that they don’t have the authority. It is not the place of unelected federal bureaucrats to determine whether or not individuals have the right to freedom of speech. I ask that you do what you can to ensure that HR 1606 does see a vote in the near future, and that you vote in favor of the measure.

Thank you for your support.

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