Thursday, January 18, 2007

Your Newest Friendly Neighborhood Registered Blog Lobbyist

Hello there, this is your federally-registered blogger, who has the requisite license to blog about politics after receiving federal permission and filing quarterly reports.

Or it will be, if the recent amendments to a "campaign finance law" are put in place.

Don't take my word for it, read what the ACLU has to say about it:

Section 220, entitled “Disclosure of Paid Efforts to Stimulate Grassroots Lobbying” imposes onerous reporting requirements that will chill constitutionally protected activity. Advocacy organizations large and small would now find their communications to the general public about policy matters redefined as lobbying and therefore subject to registration and quarterly reporting. Failure to register and report could have severe civil and potentially criminal sanctions. Section 220 would apply to even small, state grassroots organizations with no lobbying presence in Washington. When faced with burdensome registration and reporting requirements, some of these organizations may well decide that silence is the best option.

That's right. This blatant violation of our First Amendment rights would require groups (including Outright Libertarians) who publish on the web to register and record all of our activities with the federal government on a quarterly basis -- or be fined and imprisoned.

Note that bloggers, not the mainstream media, have put the pressure on Democrats and Republicans about Iraq, gay rights, taxes, and accountability. Note that bloggers, not the various bog-standard inside-the-beltway lobbying groups, have kept citizens informed and politicians -- at all levels -- honest.

This assault on blogging is not a surprise. Powerful, unaccountable politicians in Washington despise the idea that there are critics and commentators out there beyond the reach of their Washington power structure. John McCain, for instance, whined at Jerry Falwell's university that people publishing their opinion on the internet are stupid and naive.

One wonders whether he thinks the same of people who bought into his now-apparently reverseved belief that Jerry Falwell was "an agent of intolerance" or that he was opposed to anti-gay laws, before then supporting Arizona's failed bigot amendment against gays. One thing is for certain, he thinks that we should be required to get the government's permission to talk about it.

Former president George Bush Sr. wheedles that American political discourse has "gotten so adversarial that it’s ugly" and says this is due to "electronic media and the bloggers."

Unfortunately, there was no comment from the former president about the "Swift Boat" campaign his son deployed, his son's campaign to exempt gay Americans from the Constitution's protection clause, and whether he considers Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh to be "electronic media and bloggers." Apparently, the neoconservative aristocracy, with its hate-filled hyperbole, aren't as accountable for the "coarsening of our culture" as yours truly. (Perhaps he believes that, like Coulter, we should start calling for horrible things to happen to our adversaries in order to elevate discourse above the base, shameless empiricism that our group represents?)

On the left, Democrats are no better. For the actual vote, every Democratic Senator who cast a vote on the bill voted for it, including such "liberal lions" as Teddy Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and "rising star" Barack Obama.

Freedom of expression, freedom to criticize, and freedom to associate are all cherished rights protected by our Constitution. It is a travesty that politicians, many of whom claimed to favor freedom of association in the context of the Boy Scouts of America case and other situations, would take such a sweeping and unchallenged broadside at our basic rights.

Libertarians roundly condemn this power grab, just as we condemned the "campaign finance reform" before it -- which was largely used to prevent our party's candidates; the Green Party's candidates; and independent candidates from getting an equal chance to raise money and debate the old party politicians who are slowly plunging our country into a morass of crisis.

Regardless of the outcome of this legislation, you can count on the Libertarian Party (and Outright Libertarians) to keep shining the light on powerful politicians of all parties -- and continuing to contribute to the news, analysis and open, free market of ideas that so frustrates their efforts to build absolute power.

Update: Government overreaching makes strange bedfellows. Not only are the ACLU and this blogger up in arms about this power grab, but the right-wing Family Research Council has joined the fight against the law, and National Review's Stephen M. Hoersting muses about what Jim Crow states would have done with the data collected by this law, as Martin Luther King would have been required to register as a lobbyist under its provisions.

Update 2: Some are claiming that the bill requires only those earning $100,000 a year for posting blog posts or other exhortations to contact Congressmen or otherwise lobby the government are "in danger." Despite this, there are serious doubts about the interpretation of this section, the amount of compensation, and the definition of "lobbying." In effect, individual organizations with budgets, blogs and newsletters, could find themselves categorized as "lobbyists."

I recommend you let your Congressperson know that you do not support the law as it stands and urge them to support a Bennett-amendment-like change.