September 6th, 2007
The Federal Election Commission reaffirmed a decision from March of last year that blogs are media entities and are therefore exempt from FEC oversight, like other media. The exemption applies to blogs that are not “owned or controlled by a political party, committee, or candidate.” But here’s the problem with that — since publishing a blog on a service like Blogger is free, how can you know for sure who owns or controls a blog?
The complaint against Daily Kos accused the site’s parent company and its operator Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of encouraging the election of Democratic candidates and offering free advertising for candidates through political speech. The author of the complaint, Internet security expert and conservative blogger John C. A. Bambenek, asserted that by engaging in these activities, Mr. Zuniga operates a political committee, which should be registered and subject to FEC rules.
In response to the complaint, the FEC applied a two-part test to Daily Kos. The commission ruled that because the site is a media entity and is not “owned or controlled by a political party, committee, or candidate,” it acts as a “press entity” and is therefore exempt from FEC oversight.
To be clear, I actually agree that independent blogs are media entities that should be exempt from FEC oversights — it’s just not clear that it’s possible anymore to accurately separate the independent blogs from those that are “owned or controlled by a political party, committee, or candidate.”
It used to be that if you want to start a “media entity” — a newspaper, a magazine, a TV station — you needed a lot of money and resources. It was a complex process with lots of paper trails. It would have been difficult for a political entity to create a media entity with significant reach and with sustainable interest without at least some evidence that a political entity was indeed behind it.
Now anyone can set up an anonymous blog on Blogger, WordPress.com, or other services and pretend to be anything or anyone they want.
That is the double-edged sword of the democratization of media — anyone can be a publisher online, including you, me, your neighbor, your friend, your dog, the DNC, the RNC, and every PAC in the country. Letting everyone have a say means EVERYONE, not just people we like, or people with no agenda, or people who fit our idealized notion of “the people” or “citizens.” It includes those who may want to manipulate and deceive us for political or monetary gain.
It seems that the FEC is using old media standards to regulate — or fail to regulate — new media. Of course, regulating every blog as if it MIGHT be a front for a PAC isn’t a solution either.
Frankly, I don’t know what the solution is — maybe laissez-faire is the way to go. But the FCC shouldn’t pretend anymore that it has any really viable way to distinguish what should be regulated from what shouldn’t.