The Elitist Regulation Fetish

Garance at the American Prospect makes a common point on regulation and the internet.  I'm going to work on it because it's a great example of groupthink within the press corps.

Ultimately, organizations like DailyKos will probably have to make similar legal distinctions, and make some back-end divisions between the publishing enterprise, which ought to be as free as any other media or education institution to engage in opinionated commentary and publish unregulated comment sections, and the political action and fundraising enterprise. Creating an entity -- call it DailyKos Media, Inc. -- to oversee the publishing wing and a Kossak PAC or Voter Fund to engage in electoral activity wouldn't be that hard, and the relationship between the two could easily be built into the site architecture. ( was founded as a 527 and that hasn't hurt their growth or advocacy at all as far as I can tell.)

The thing is, Garance never explains why Daily Kos will have to do anything she says it will have to do. Why?  What is the point?  Is it to increase freedom?  Reduce corruption?  Help puppies?  What is the point of regulating blogs?  

I laid out our conceptual overlay, that internet politics lowers the barriers to entry and thereby reduces corruption.  Regulating the internet reraises those barriers and increases corruption.  But what, aside from a weird distrust of people who can't be fired that write on the internets, is behind this 'must' statement?  Nothing, as far as I can tell.  There's no rationale behind it except the rationale of a bureaucrat who just says 'because it's always been done that way.'

Tags: American Prospect, FEC, HR 1606, HR 4900 (all tags)



Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

Garance is a stupid snizatch.

by taylormattd 2006-03-17 07:26PM | 0 recs
Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

But, of course, large corporations with defense and oil interests can keep funneling donations to politicians that hand them contracts worth billions of dollars in taxpayer money.  And they want to regulate bloggers?   Fuck off.

by steve expat 2006-03-17 07:49PM | 0 recs
As opposed to

"Because the internet is magic?"

The people deserve to know who influences their elections and how.  Why shouldn't that rationale apply to the internet as it would any other medium?  Because the internet is magic?

And which is "elitist": the group who believes that the people deserve to know, or the group who doesn't?

Otherwise, it's nice to know that RedState, at least, has managed to survive despite those terrible, terrible regulations it must suffer under as a 527.

by Drew 2006-03-17 08:04PM | 0 recs
Re: As opposed to

Then why shouldn't FOX register as a 527 PAC, Drew?

FOX's Hannity did a 30-minute infomercial for Katherine Harris the other day.  Yet you would hold blogs to a stricter standard than the TV media?

by Phoenix Woman 2006-03-17 08:27PM | 0 recs
Would I?

See, I don't see where I ever said that.  I think that the internet should be regulated as any other communications medium would be regulated.  And why shouldn't it be?  Because it's magic?

If MyDD is like FOX, and FOX doesn't have to file with the FEC, then neither should MyDD.  But if it isn't like FOX, then maybe it should.  It's really that simple.  Whether the communications medium is the internet doesn't really matter to me.

by Drew 2006-03-17 09:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Would I?

Fox doesn't have to file with the FEC.  This legislation treats the internet more strictly than it does other media.

by Matt Stoller 2006-03-18 04:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Would I?

But MyDD isn't like Fox. Fox is a media outlet. MyDD is a bunch of people that write their opinions. MyDD does not pretend to be media.

This is all much ado about nothing. You make a good point that the internet is not magic. The rules don't change because of a new technology. The same rules are easily applied everywhere.

If you run a media website, an on-line magazine or newspaper, then you abide by the standards of journalism.

If you run an on-line fund rasing mechanism then you have to abide by FEC/IRS regs for 527's, 501c's, etc.

If you are a guy with a loud mouth, a keyboard, and a free blogger website and you post all sorts of opinions about whatever the heck drives you that day then you are an American citizen exercising their rights of free speech and potentially obnoxiousness.

It is really all very simple. And it ain't magic.

As I recall MyDD and DailyKos formed a fund raising PAC. I never looked it over but I assume they filed the appropriate paperwork, file the required financial reports, and under that banner act just like any and every other PAC or 527.

Ok, so what's the problem?

As the owners of a couple websites where they and others post stories, diaries, and articles and a host of thousands write comments and opinions they are engaging in their rights as American citizens to blather on at great length regardless of whether anything they have to say has merit or not.

The only question there is where the boarderline is between such a website and a media outlet. Do they present themselves as a news service? Do you they present themselves as journalists? We've gotten into this whole conversation about "blogger ethics" before. It is all about what they decide to present themselves as. Hannity and Matthews present themselves as independent, unbiased reporters of "just the facts" but it is painfully obvious that they are nothing but propogandists or yellow journalists. DailyKos and MyDD make it quite clear that they are not unbiased and absolutely have an opinion and an agenda going into it. Nothing wrong with that. It is an honest and straightforward approach unlike that of the deceptive practices of the media propogandists.

So where is the problem?

by Andrew C White 2006-03-18 05:33AM | 0 recs
Would I?

See, I don't see where I wrote that.  I'd hold the internet to the same standard as any other communications medium.  Why shouldn't it be?  Because it's magic?

If Daily Kos is like FOX, and FOX doesn't have to file, then neither should Daily Kos.  But if Daily Kos isn't like FOX, then maybe it should.  It's as simple as that.  And to me, it really doesn't matter whether its the internet or not.

by Drew 2006-03-18 08:54AM | 0 recs
Re: As opposed to

Are you suggesting that who Kos is represents some sort of secret?  That you can't figure out who Kos is?

The thing about reading blogs on the Internet is that if you're doing that, you're in a position to Google.  That is, assuming the blog itself doesn't tell you what it's doing, which it almost certainly does.  I don't have to know who Atrios "is" to know who he is - he's obviously not a conservative, and he obviously wants the conservatives out of power.  I have my name at the top of my blog.  Even people who don't use their real names maintain a consistent identity.

No one is stopping the public from knowing what Kos is up to.  Congress isn't trying to change that, they're trying to change whether it is feasible for Kos to do it.

by Avedon 2006-03-18 06:56AM | 0 recs
Not everyone is Kos.

Nevertheless, it should be the responsibility of the person trying to influence an election to disclose their efforts; that responsibility should not be forced on every individual voter.

As for whether it is feasible for Daily Kos to exist if it had to file - I think it is, its protests to the contrary notwithstanding.  Red State does, apparently.  I find it difficult to believe that blogs that send hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates and committees would cease to exist if made to file.    Committees with far fewer resources somehow continue to exist despite having to file, after all.

Of course, all this assumes that Kos should file.  Which may not be the case.

by Drew 2006-03-18 09:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

In the same article, she also says that 1606 would "would fail to close the online loophole that currently leaves soft-money funded partisan political activities less regulated online than off."

I thought it was funny that she'd use the word loophole.  Internet campaigning/activism is a new realm.  It's not like they can use it to buy TV or radio spots.  I just don't see what advantage spending bajillions of dollars on the internet is going to do for a candidate.  What's he gonna do, buy all the bloggers new cars to shill for him?

I realize that someday, somebody's probably going to figure out how to do insidious things with money and the internet, but why not wait and see what the problem will be before trying to implement a solution?  The technology is gonna change anyway, so overreacting now most likely won't help matters.

by Royko 2006-03-17 08:18PM | 0 recs
Does anyone really still read TAPPED?

There isn't a single author there who's any better than a minor league Heather. Throw 'em in the same trash heap as TNR and Slate.

by rhealdeal 2006-03-17 09:39PM | 0 recs
Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

The difference between Daily Kos and a PAC or 527 is that the money that comes in to Daily Kos goes to manage the site and to reporting and opinion pieces.

The money that comes in to a PAC or 527 may be used for opinion pieces, but is primarily used for issue advocacy (mailings, advertisements, print materials) and contributing to candidates.

The money Kos "raises" for candidates never touches his hands, and the FEC has no problem with bundling like that.  If they regulate Kos's bundling, they will have to regulate EVERYONE's bundling, including Bush's Pioneers and Rangers.

by nathan 2006-03-18 01:11AM | 0 recs
Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

Markos doesn't even bundle - he just makes suggestions. (ActBlue does the bundling - but pre-ActBlue, there was no bundling going on at all.)

by DavidNYC 2006-03-18 04:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

The reason the media get it wrong is that they don't appreciate the distinction between "in-kind contribution", and "independent expenditure."  An in-kind contribution is made, for example, if you provide free advertising, meaning you post someone's campaign literature in a spot where you would otherwise post advertising.  A billboard, same thing.  To be Constitutional, the Congress and the FEC had to carve out a large area of exemption for 1st amendment political speech -- the most highly protected form of speech.  Since bloggers do not charge anyone to write what they write, (or read what the write for that matter) and since provision of your own voluntary service (rather than materials or access) cannot be regulated without impinging on speech, I don't see how you stop people from talking, about whatever.

The money raising thing is speech, plain and simple.  It's different than the money spending thing, and that's where I'd focus the line drawing.  A PAC controls how money is spent.  First they collect it; then they distribute it.  Until and unless Markos starts collecting and distributing, he's not a PAC.  Until and unless he starts collecting money and airing issue ads, he's not a 527.  Until and unless he starts collecting money and lobbying, he's not a 501(c)(4).  Telling his readers to send cash to his favorite campaigns is garden variety free speech.

Pretty much anything you can pick up the phone and do yourself is garden variety free speech.

by Eligere 2006-03-18 02:26AM | 0 recs
Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

I think there are already examples of why we should be looking for sensible ways to apply BCRA to internet communications (by "sensible" I mean ways that don't dampen grassroots participation).  The Thune campaign comes to mind - where they paid $35k to a couple of South Dakota bloggers to promote the campaign.  Now, obviously, campaign expenditures have to be reported by the campaign and I presume that this is how the Thune situation came to light.  But I think this is a good indication that campaigns are increasingly aware of the internet as an important medium in influencing the public debate, and that they are likely to continue to look for ways to push the on-line envelope.  The internet is only going to become more important as technology advances.  It makes sense to me to put regulations in place to prevent abuses from happening, provided this can be done is ways that protect the first amendment rights of grassroots (i.e. non-campaign affiliated) participation.

I have to say that, like Drew above, I'm very skeptical about what you call your "conceptual overlay," which I understand to be that the internet is different from other media because one's ability to participate does not rise or fall in accordance with the amount of money she has.  That's true only in the sense that anyone can put up a free post on blogger that will be read by approximately nobody.  But it strikes me as fairly ludicrous to assert that a wealthy individual (or corporation) does not have a huge advantage when it comes to having an actual influence on public debate.  Give me a couple hundred grand for a web design team, an advertising team to make internet Swift Boat commercials, bandwith, and Google ads to promote my site, and I'll build you one hell of an successful website.  Here's an analogy: Nobody thinks that just because public access channels exist, television is a level playing field.  Why is the internet so different?

I've tried to be open-minded about all of this, but the ridiculous scare tactics of the anti-regulation crowd have been pretty alienating.  I mean, at Red State I've read that "commenting at this blog or Daily Kos would subject you to FEC Reporting under HR 4900," which is patently absurd.  The FEC is going to regulate my internet comments.  Give me a break.  Even if they were so inclined, how in the hell would the FEC accomplish this?  And even if it was  possible to do - which it's not - how would any such regulation come close to being constitutional?  These are scare tactics, and they're laughable.

Finally, I'm asked to believe that folks like Nancy Pelosi and Russ Feingold are just anti-free speech and/or trying to maintain the advantages of incumbency, while the likes of Denny Hastert and Bill Frist are just looking out for the little man.  Puh-lease.

by few 2006-03-18 07:24AM | 0 recs
Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

That's true only in the sense that anyone can put up a free post on blogger that will be read by approximately nobody.

You mean like Eschaton? Because that is exactly what Duncan Black did, and people began to read it.

The fact that they are trying to railroad HR 4900 through with no hearings should set off bells that there are things in it that do not bear scrutiny.

And how has current regulation restrained the power of corporate interests? As in not at all. In a world of right wing stink tanks, where a defense contractor owns a TV network, why do we think regulation is a remedy and why are we worried about blogs?

by Alice Marshall 2006-03-18 08:27AM | 0 recs
Re: The Elitist Regulation Fetish

Of course there a plenty of bloggers who started from obscurity and now have huge readerships.  This says virtually nothing about whether or not the internet as a medium is less susceptible to corruption.

Unless I'm reading you wrong, you seem to be arguing that because BCRA has not - in four years - ended corruption, we should abandon it altogether.  I can't agree.  To the extent that there are still abuses, they should be addressed.  But BCRA has made a difference.

The problem I have with equating money to speech is that only the wealthy get to speak.  That's not my understanding of the First Amendment, and it's not what I want to see happen to the internet.

by few 2006-03-18 08:53AM | 0 recs

This was meant as a response to Alice Marshall above.  Apologies.

by few 2006-03-18 08:55AM | 0 recs
The Real Issue Is

Whether or not the Internet gets around the anti-bundling rules in McCain-Feingold.  If corporations and influence peddlers realize they can get around these regulations via the net, they will do it at some point.  They can be slow to find loopholes - see 527s- but once they figure them out lookout.  It is my understanding that HR 1606 addresses that legitimate problem without the restrictions in other bills.

by John Mills 2006-03-18 11:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Issue Is

Meant to say soft money and anti-bundling rules in McCain-Feingold.

by John Mills 2006-03-18 11:56AM | 0 recs
To limit dissent, reduce public participation...

The point of regulating blogs, of course, is to limit dissent and to limit public participation in the political process. The same was true of that unconstitutional campaign finance law. I guess the 95+ % re-election rate of Congress just isn't yet competitive with Saddam's re-election rates over the years...

by shmooth 2006-03-18 02:18PM | 0 recs


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