It's Against the Law to Forward, Against the Law to Link…


The next target of the federal campaign-finance bureaucracy could be the Internet. Declan McCullagh reports:

In just a few months, [Bradley Smith] warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines.

Smith should know. He's one of the six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, which is beginning the perilous process of extending a controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet.

In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. "The commission's exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines" the campaign finance law's purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

For the whole article, including an interview with Smith, go here.

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  1. But this law doesn’t restrict free speech. Nope. Not at all.

  2. How the fuck are they going to enforce it? No one seems to be able to stop real spam.

  3. Jesus Fucking Christ!!! We’re doomed!

  4. “The commission’s exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines” the campaign finance law’s purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

    She says that like its a bad thing.

  5. Watch all the unmutuals start linking to every politician’s website, regardless of whether they support them or not.

  6. And I always thought that if I ended up in jail, it’d be for drugs!

    I do love that Bradley Smith, though. Last year, in a public health class, the prof asked me what I would do if I were head of the Dept. of Labor, and I told him I’d do everything in my power to dissolve my own agency.

    Bradley Smith is on the same page.

  7. Bradley Smith quote:

    Because the statute refers to periodicals or broadcast, and it’s not clear the Internet is either of those. Second, because there’s no standard for being a blogger, anyone can claim to be one, and we’re back to the deregulated Internet that the judge objected to. Also I think some of my colleagues on the commission would be uncomfortable with that kind of blanket exemption.

    I’m sorry the judge mentioned objects to a “deregulated” internet, but it’s the truth. If someone in Russia wants to set up a web server promoting one US candidate or another, there’s shit that can be done about it. These geniuses don’t seem to get it. They’re trying to herd cats.

    Unless they’re trying to revive Carnivore, there’s no way to track it.

  8. Smith may say he’s on the same page, but what, if anything at all, has he actually done to blunt the effects of his agency, much less dissolve it?

  9. This may simply have the effect of moving web hosting business to other countries.

  10. It’s about time they did something about that evil internet. We’ll smoke every last little wad of free speech out of their hidey holes, no matter how long it takes. I’m sorry, but when they wrote “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech”, they weren’t talking about the internet. Yeah, sure, you might see “shall make no law” and think that it means, ahem, no law. What the authors of the BoR really meant was that Congress was to make lots of laws abridging the freedom of speech. See, that’s all it was, a typo! Geez, folks.

    Now that we’ve cleared that up, onward march! Okay, so, we’ve strangled the freedom of speech with regards to money, now the internet…what’s left…oh, yeah, regular everyday chattin’.

    OK, folks, time for a brainstorm. How can we make a law that restricts “political” speech, even when it’s between 2 people, at a whisper, in a dark alley at 2am in Topeka, KS? This is important. I mean, unless Congress acts now, we could actually have people talking about politics without a license! Freedom isn’t free, folks. Remember our mission: to wholly circumvent the first amendment without actually repealing it. Go, go, go!

  11. Poustman:

    Yeah, but, let’s say the blogger lives in Pennsylvania, and his site is hosted in the Ukraine. Couldn’t the gubment just go straight for the blogger, regardless of where he’s hosting from? Or will all blogging need to be 100% anonymous?

  12. Evan,

    File sharing is supposedly a no-no, yet tens of millions of people still do it.

    When you deal in volume, it’s nearly impossible to stop the critical mass.

    Also, as I understand it, the FEC only has the power to fine. It doesn’t have any law enforcement budget. Considering the DEA can’t stop the trafficking of a physical substance, a virtual exchange with a much smaller budget will prove nearly impossible to even slow down.

  13. When you deal in volume, it’s nearly impossible to stop the critical mass.

    True, but it pretty easy to selectively enforce this rule on people who annoy/challenge you. It doesn’t matter if they can’t stop everyone, they can destroy *you*.

    They can’t effectively shoot everyone one at a time either, but this would be little comfort for those who were killed.

  14. All I can say is that if I had known it would come to this I never would have campaigned for McCain in 2000. Back then I still thought that the idea was to write a law that would curtail bribery, selling of the Lincoln Bedroom, etc. Now I see that the idea was to regulate speech.

  15. Ah thoreau, so naive. With my tinfoil hat on, I blocked their radio signals that make folks naive, and so I knew all along that it was about regulating speech. These people are creeping me out. And what about this conservative supreme court that we have? They were gonna make sure what was left of The Constitution was going to remain in tact, right?

  16. Lowdog, all I can say in my defense is that I realize my mistake now. A lot of people don’t.

    For instance, I pointed out to my mother that elections are still incredibly expensive but now public statements are more regulated. Exactly the opposite of what we were promised. I suggested that maybe McCain-Feingold should be repealed. Her response was that maybe it was simply the best that the good Senators could get enacted.

    She simply can’t bring herself to criticize one of the few Republicans who doesn’t get along with Bush.

  17. This IS horrible…simply horrible.

    About the only good thing, is that it might break the camel’s back – but I think even effective protest might only get the limited victory of getting the ‘net excempted…better, but still too bad.

    Really…does anyone know about the chances to get this re-visited in the courts?

    Am I correct in one of my understandings of this ruling? If I wrote an article about, say Kerry, in my blog – damning him for some view I condemned – and posted a link to his campaign site, merely to document my assertion that he actually held the view I was REBUTTING, my link would be considered an “in-kind” contribution to his campaign, and potentially illegal, if enough links were assessed as exceeding in value, the “allowable” limits on such contributions? Can it be THAT bad? That responsible journalistic practice, in foot-noting controversial blog articles, would be criminalised?

  18. At least it’s ironic that those who stand to lose the most (the Democrats) are the very ones who supported McCain-Feingold so vigorously and whose representatives on the FEC are allowing this outrage to occur.

  19. For these purposes “we mutually pledge our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor”. — Declaration of Indep.

    For these purposes “we mutually pledge our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor up to $1000 per person, signatures below are not endorsements and contain employer’s name, and I am John Hancock and I approved this message.”. — Declaration of Indep. — FEC version

  20. While I’m cautious and willing to fight this (emails have already been prattled off with hard copy letters to be drafted this weekend), and certainly don’t like it on principle, it seems likely that to be completely and utterly unenforceable. Granted, it would suck to be on of the first few hit that everyone then rallies behind, but I don’t know that it would ever get that far.

    The pols, especially the Dems got a shitload of money from internet donations and stand to gain more in the future. This type of internet enforcement of McFein would make their internet reach far shorter and therefore far less lucrative. Even the idiots in congress have to be able to see this (and should be reminded NOW, just in case they are as stupid as they act).

    That said, a small part of me wants to see this thing actually come to a head. This internet regulation has virtually no friends on the internet, meaning it might just bring all areas of the political blogosphere together in ways previously not seen. And anyway you slice it, I don’t see how the govt wins this one. They don’t have the time, money or resources to actively enforce even a fraction of what goes on, especially since no one is just going to go along nicely.

    So let them hear it, by phone, fax, letter and email, be they for it or against it. Not once not twice, but a thousand times. They wish to restrict the first amendment (even further), then they should hear ever last bit of free speech remaining. Forget about LATimes playing patty-cake with NK, forget about James Guckert playing whatever, with whomever at the white house. Spend just one week of internet time on this little problem, and they may just see things differently.

  21. Federal Election Commission, 999 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20463 (800) 424-9530

  22. See, this is all the fault of liberals who have pissed and moaned since Christ was on mess duty with me that rich pukes were buying elections.

  23. So are we at that part in the musical where we man the barricades and start waving a huge red flag? 🙂

    Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry of men! It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!

    Something is wrong with the world; I find myself agreeing with R.C. Dean.


    This has the definate ability to chill speech, even if it only chills the speech of a minority of bloggers.

  24. The Wine Commonsewer,

    The Democrats are fools, Bush is spineless for signing the fucking bill into law and the Supreme Court is out of their fucking minds for actually upholding it.

  25. Keep in mind that this sort of stupidity is being considered at the same time that a National ID law is making its way through the Congress.

    Has a group formed to stop the latter? Because I guarantee you that it isn’t remotely on the political radar.

  26. So how would things be different if we let the Chinese have their way and gave the UN control of the entire Internet?

  27. Gary,

    Ix nay on the ational-ID-card-nay. Remember what they said? It’s not a national ID card. Just keep repeating that to yourself. Click your heels together twice. Hope for the best.

    It seems as if, every day, there’s more bad fucking news. Every morning, NPR leaves me screaming at the dashboard. First this FEC shite. Then, this rediculous Ted Stevens pile of shit. FUCK, how in the HELL can a rational person (I know, Beaurocrats ? rational) say that people cannot discern between broadcast TV and cable. FUCK! Ahem, you get the BILL in the MAIL every month, you goddamned fool. How can you not know whether you have cable or not? Stevens says people cannot discern between cable and broadcast, so they never know what they might be exposed to. Well, if they’re so worried about being exposed to the horrid cable channels, why don’t they just block everything but the networks? Or just not pay for cable at all. Or change the channel. Or look at the TV rating system icon at the beginning of the program. Or get a v-chip.

    Oh, I forgot, us little folk are just a bunch of wimpering, mindless puppy dogs, completely incapable of making rational decisions or thinking for ourselves. Thus, we need smart politicians like Stevens to save our dumb asses from the constant barrage of evil that we are otherwise powerless to escape. “Duh, change the channel?! Why, I never thought about that before!”



    At least Mr. Stevens knows what he’s talking about…

  28. Former CNN Watcher,


    Evan Williams,

    Oh I definately agree. Stevens is a bloody ponce.

  29. Thoreau:

    Hey, at least you realized your mistake. Many don’t even now, and some weren’t making a mistake.

    I suspect leaning too “right-” or “left-” in libertarianism tends to open up blind spots like that, ones corresponding to the blind spots (or simple indiffence) of the corresponding statists. Something to ponder not-entirely-comfortably.

  30. Evan, I think Stevens knows it’s easy enough for him or you or anyone else to do those things. But not only does he not want to watch “smut”, he doesn’t want anyone else to either. Correction: he probably does want to watch smut, and does indeed watch it in the name of “research”, while beating off and dreaming of his Christian nirvana here on earth (or at least for now, America). For which righteous cause we heathens too will rise up and fight, once we’re no longer distracted by sinful, immoral, and tempting televisual crack.

  31. It is time to resurrect an article I wrote for Reason in 2000, ( in which I concluded that the loopholes in the campaign finance laws are the only good parts of a demented system. I can claim some prescience with the following comment:

    “What many ‘reformers’ really fear is not the power of money but the power of ideas, especially ideas skeptical of government. The true agenda is to suppress these; the corrupting influence of money is simply a convenient rationale.

    “Exhibit A for this conclusion is the reformers’ attitude toward the Internet, which is becoming the newest ‘loophole.’ Instead of rejoicing that the new medium reduces the costs of communication and thus creates great opportunities to cut the tie between money and political speech, the FEC has tried to use the fact that it costs some money as a jurisdictional hook to limit it.”

  32. I’d guess the Fed Election Commissars already have this guy on retainer to track down the purveyors of free speech:

    A University of California researcher says he has found a way to identify computer hardware remotely, a technique that could potentially unmask anonymous Web surfers by bypassing some common security techniques.

    Tadayoshi Kohno, a doctoral student, wrote in a paper on his research: “There are now a number of powerful techniques for remote operating system fingerprinting, that is, remotely determining the operating systems of devices on the Internet. We push this idea further and introduce the notion of remote physical device fingerprinting…without the fingerprinted device’s known cooperation.”

  33. To the scenarios concerning the fines for someone linking to CRITICIZE or objectively REFERENCE a politician, I’ll add the possibility of linking out of one’s resume or business for self-promotion. I have links to political organizations from my posted resume, to show connections to work I’ve done. What about the person who designs the Web page for a campaign, out of purely commercial interest? Can’t advertise your own work to prospective clients?

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