Campaign Finance Fiasco Spreads to the Net

by on September 22, 2004

As part of their continuing effort to censor political speech in America, several “campaign reformers” in Congress have won an important case in the U.S. District Court regarding FEC interpretations of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“BCRA”).

I’m not going to go off on a rant about this disgusting piece of political censorship, but if you want to understand just how despicable this incumbent protection legislation really is, then I encourage you to read “Campaign Finance Reform: Searching for Corruption in All the Wrong Places” by Brad Smith and “Making the World Safer for Incumbents The Consequences of McCain-Feingold-Cochran,” by John Samples.

It just makes me sick to think that politicians can just throw around the word “corruption” so loosely and then ban all sorts of legitimate political speech and advertising before an election as a result. Amazingly, we now live in a country that affords more constitutional protections to Internet pornography than political speech before elections. While I’m happy the courts apply such strict scrutiny to other forms of speech, one wonders what our Founding Fathers would have thought about a state of affairs where you have an absolute right to view porn online but not see certain types of political advertising 60 days before an election. Bizarre.

Anyway, this latest District Court case threw out some recent FEC rules that had limited the applications of these draconian speech controls. One of those FEC regulations had shielded the Internet from the rules that were being applied to broadcasting. Here’s the key passage on page 57 of the decision effectively making certain forms of Internet communications illegal:

“The [FEC’s] exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines FECA’s purposes and therefore violates the [previous administrative case law]… To allow [Internet] expenditures to be made unregulated would permit rampant circumvention of the campaign finance laws and foster corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Again, it’s all about preventing “corruption.” After all, just think how “corrupting” it would be for a group or an individual to run an online ad about a candidate in the days and weeks leading up to an election. We might actually learn something, and we can’t have that now can we!!!

Moreover, practically speaking, there are all sorts of interesting questions raised by this like what constitutes political advertising online. The Internet is nothing like television and the many hybrid forms of speech and advertising we see online will make it very difficult for lawmakers and the courts to draw these lines in the future.

Bottom line = less free speech both online and off. And more Internet regulation to boot.

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