Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

PDC talks about regulating internet activity

The Olympian notices that the PDC kind of wondered aloud about regulating internet politics.
The state Public Disclosure Commission dipped its toes in the debate over regulating political activity on the internet today, but it’s unclear how far it might go, if at all.

A panel of Northwest political bloggers and political finance experts cautioned the citizen-led commission to go carefully and let the role of the internet in politics unfold.

“I think the test you should do in terms of regulation is whether payment is involved … If there is no payment involved, there should be no regulation,” said Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan, California-based Center for Governmental Studies.
Since, according to the short article, the PDC isn't exactly moving at lightning speed on this and would most likely seek input from the Legislature, there's no need to get too excited, but we can kick it around anyhow.

It is worth noting that what we need in all campaign finance regulation is transparency. While I have nothing against the hard working folks at the PDC, as it stands now, wealthy right wing contributors from out of state can funnel money into state campaigns, and the true source of the funds is often not traceable. We saw this during the battle over I-933. Addressing loopholes with current regulations ought to be priority number one.

Nobody at NPI (which is a nonprofit organization, not a political committee) currently gets paid. If this changes in the future, there will be a policy of transparency and disclosure. But you can easily imagine the right wing playing games, setting up astroturf operations, including blogs.

I'm hard pressed to imagine how regulating unpaid bloggers, especially those who set up their own private blogs, would be constitutional.

And if it happened, I would probably just set up my own personal blog before I would submit to any kind of PDC regulation. Some small time guy blogging about stuff, albeit obsessively, is not the same as hundreds of thousands of corporate dollars pouring in to advance the right wing agenda.

The bad aspects of modern campaigning involve deception. Misleading robo-calls, false information fliers and unsubstantiated claims in commercials may all enjoy First Amendment protection, but making the funders of such claims known to the public might help deter some of it. In theory, anyway.

The Legislature couldn't even move on banning political robo-calls last session, an action which most folks would happily applaud. If you ask me, that's far more important than regulating blogs. (And for the record, I don't see how anyone can claim a First Amendment right to ring my phone. I pay for it. Just because it's cheap and easy for consultants to use doesn't make it acceptable.)

There's an obvious problem with regulating blogs anyhow. How on earth is the PDC going to decide what blogs are purely political, which ones fall under a press exemption, and which ones are only partly political? It's impossible to categorize. For instance, would Postman on Politics be exempt from regulation because it is associated with a newspaper?

What happens when a non-political blog makes comments about legislation or campaigns? Bottom line, this isn't workable. I'll be surprised if this goes anywhere.

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