Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Regulating blogs?

Brad Smith, one of the Federal Elections Commission's (FEC) commissioners, recently made some comments that have been widely interpreted as a thinly vieled threat to the politically active blogosphere. A close reading of his comments does indeed suggest to this reviewer that Mr. Smith actually had the intent to threaten. Scott Thomas, the chairman of the FEC commissioners, has ever since been trying to calm the storm of protest resulting from Mr. Smith's remarks. Mr. Thomas is basically trying to say that the FEC would resort to regulating the blogosphere only under extreme circumstances that (one presumes) he believes everyone would find to be in reasonable need of regulation.

This is a topic on which reasonable men can disagree. My own position is that any regulation whatsoever is unconstitutional on the face of it, and that includes all the free speech suppression provisions of McCain-Feingold.

Bob Bauer (a campaign finance expert for the Democratic Party) recently published a learned analysis of the Brad Smith kerfuffle, ending with these remarks:

But who is creeping through which door? The questions Thomas would have the agency answer—what is news? What is a "legitimate" press function?—are those, in fact, that the proponents of an unshackled Internet would not entrust to the deliberation of the government. Once the FEC has determined that these questions are rightly asked, and that it is poised to competently answer them, it has already seized control of the territory. Those permitted to pass through do so, as stated here previously, as an act of administrative grace which, granted once, may be withdrawn later. It is a matter of four votes.

This is the vast difference between a wholesale exemption for Internet communications, justified by its unique characteristics and a desire to provide for its continued, unimpeded development, and the very different decision to treat those communications much like any other, subject to regulatory whim.


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