June 28, 2005

FEC Hearings on Blogging Regulations

FEC hearings on blogging have begun. A previously mentioned posting entitled Will FEC Draft Regulations Lead to Greater Regulatory Control Over Blogging Community? provides background information.

A subsequent posting is entitled More on Potential FEC Restrictions on Blogging Community.

Michael Krempasky testified today before the FEC on potential issues arising from placing regulations on blogging:

Today you consider rules that will affect millions of people. Not just the eleven million blogs currently indexed by the search engine Technorati, but the millions of people who currently have the freedom to take a few minutes, join the blogosphere and add their voice to our political conversation.

I’ll focus my testimony this morning on the media exemption. My hope is that the Commission will take specific and discrete steps to ensure that no blogger, no amateur activist, and no self-published pundit ever need consult with legal counsel in fear of the regulatory might of the federal government.

Our current campaign finance regulations touch nearly every area of political participation by associations, corporations, candidates, political parties and individuals. But one group is notably and, for practical purposes, completely exempt – the news media. The Commission is now considering the proper scope of that exemption. As it has asked, "Should the exemption be limited to entities who are media entities and who are covering or carrying a news story, commentary, or editorial?"

With respect, the question properly formed should have been, "can the exemption be limited?" The answer must be an emphatic no. There is no doubt that bloggers are media entities. Nor is there any doubt that the tradition of citizen journalists is a long accepted part of our national culture. From before very founding of our country, individuals and relative unknowns have contributed to this great conversation...

Time and time again, it is the new media – these bloggers – that fill the information gap. The vast resources of the blogosphere as a whole, its expertise, creativity and motivation – dwarf any newsroom in the country. Indeed, free of the constraints of bureaucratic hierarchies and concerns of column inches, blogs can provide news coverage that is both faster and more in depth than anything the mainstream media can hope to provide...

This very rulemaking is an even better case in point. What newspaper or television station could afford to devote time and space every day to covering the actions or potential actions of a relatively small government agency? None did, and none could. Meanwhile, bloggers wrote thousands of words about the Commission’s rulemaking, educating their readers and encouraging them to participate in the process.

There is no doubt that the Commission recognizes the difficulty in extending the media exemption to these citizen journalists. It is imperative that it does so. 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? How is the public benefited by allowing CNN to evade regulation while spending corporate dollars to put campaign employees on the airwaves as pundits, while forcing bloggers to scour the Record and read Commission advisory opinions?

Worse yet, if the Commission were to adopt a policy of examining individual blogs on a case-by-case basis, how is that to be distinguished from a government license to publish free of jeopardy – only granted (or denied) after the fact? Unlike previous Commission investigations in the offline world, these cases would affect not large corporations or interest groups with the ability to hire the best firms in Washington, but instead unsophisticated and unfounded individuals poorly suited to navigate the Commissions regulatory process...

The Commission should extend the media exemption to bloggers and other online publishers with the broadest possible terms. The American people, when given the chance tend to make choices that best serve them. The more voices, the more outlets, the more "media entities" – the more informed our public – and our voters will be.

Here is some further information posted on the same blog site and this links to all their FEC postings.

Here is a news article on the day's testimony.