Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 19, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKING REGISTRATION....Is Harry Reid pushing a provision in the Senate ethics bill that would require bloggers to register with the government? This is a story that's been making the rounds on conservative blogs, but fellow conservative Stephen Bainbridge says it's bunk:

The vast bulk of the section is definitional. When you parse out the operative language [it says that] someone who engages in grassroots lobbying is not required to register or file reports under section 220. Someone who engages in paid grassroots lobbying is not required to register or file reports under section 220. Only someone who is retained by a client and either earns or spends $25,000 or more per quarter is covered.

There have been times when bloggers were hired by either political or issue campaigns to blog on their behalf. Such a blogger might be covered by this statute if they make more than $25,000 per quarter for doing so. But how many bloggers does that include?

Answer: virtually none. And if you do fall into this category, I'm not sure why the particular technical method you use (i.e., blogging) should exempt you from the rules everyone else has to follow anyway. This may or may not be a good provision (I'm agnostic because I don't know enough about it), but it doesn't look like the blogosphere has anything in particular to fear from it.

UPDATE: It turns out that an amendment by Bob Bennett (R-Utah) to strip the grassroots provision from the ethics bill was approved on Thursday, so this is a moot point. The grassroots provision was not in the final version of the ethics bill that was passed on Friday.

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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Comments

Well, the ethics reform passed the Senate.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/19/washington/19ethics.html?_r=1&ei=5094&en=a6672e5d2e938050&hp=&ex=1169182800&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print&adxnnlx=1169232892-tcZ3KmSsQKNhwrJBVu7Fqg

Kudos to the Democrats, with a nod to Republican DeMint. Kudos to the Democrats.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 19, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like this covers bloggers who also make money as lobbyists. Or, put another way, it covers lobbyists who make 25 K and blog on the side.

What's the problem with that? Sounds quite reasonable to me.

Posted by: POed Lib on January 19, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

of course, if a Republican advocated requiring that Democratic/Liberal bloggers register with the gov't the Convservative blogosphere would call him/her a patriot...

Posted by: thersites on January 19, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

The bill passed, but an Amendment by Bob Bennett (R-UT) stripped the grassroots lobbying provision from the bill.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on January 19, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Stephen Baldridge: "There have been times when bloggers were hired by either political or issue campaigns to blog on their behalf. Such a blogger might be covered by this statute if they make more than $25,000 per quarter for doing so. But how many bloggers does that include?"

It is a violation of the First Amendment to restrict the right of bloggers to either express an opinion or provide a platform for others to do so.

However, as the lines between journalism and paid advocacy are blurred by the likes of Armstrong Williams, et al., I would think that it would be in te coutry's best interest to at least provide for full disclosure.

If you are being paid by a specific party or interest for your advocacy -- no matter the amount -- then you by definition are a lobbyist, and therefore you should at least be required to register as a lobbyist.

Havin worked for many years as senior staff in the legislative branch of government, I was always required to file public disclosure forms regarding my business interests, personal finances, etc. Was it humbug? Yes, but it was also necessary if the public was to maintain any semblance of confidence in the system.

I'm most always at a loss regarding opposition to issues of public disclosure. I've often found that those who oppose such regulatory measures often have something to hide from the general public.

(DISCLOSURE: I now work as a grant writer and fundraising consultant to 501(c)(3) non-profit foundations and organizations operating in the Pacific Rim, and as such am also a registered lobbyist with both the State of Hawaii and the State of California.)

Bloggers, pundits and reporters who are employed by media, like Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly, should most certainly be exempt from regulation, unless the media outlet in question is being paid by a specific interest or party to advocate on their behalf. That falls under the definition of public relations, and is not real journalism or punditry.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 19, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Any minute now, the disclosures from the Schaife guys and gals will start a'pourin.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 19, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Either way, the amendment was rejected, roll call.

Looks like many of the usual suspects on the D side: Baucus, Landreiu, Bayh, Nelson, Salazar, Conrad, Dorgan. Curiously Feinstein voted nay despite complaining on the floor that the amendment was poorly written.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot on January 19, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

This does put a couple of things into a grey area.

Would it be $25,000 paid from a single individual or corporation?
That will just lead to the payment being spread out.

Is it $25,000 total revenue? While it might sound like a lot, $25,000 in revenue (not profit) isn't an unforseable amount for a popular ad-supported weblog with some paid premium content.

And what about for an organization like Kevin's here? The combined revenue streams of the magazine, the web-site, paid speaking engagements, etc. Does "The Washington Monthly" as a whole count?

As always -- well meaning legislation can easily be corrupted to serve a less honourable purpose. The devil is in the details.

Posted by: JustInTime on January 19, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

How would this work if, say, I posted to an employer-sponsored blog, and ever made a political remark?

This came up years ago in Cambridge, when some employee of Thinking Machines Corporation, using his TMC account, posted some comments on the rent-control repeal to a local newsgroup. One Steve Boursy decided to make an issue of it, and apparently hassled company lawyers and state lawyers with accusations of TMC funding one side of a political campaign in some illegal way. Didn't sound like the sort of thing I wanted to deal with, and I got myself my own account.

So could a similar thing happen here?

And further, how easy is it to understand that one can safely not be bothered? Simply having to do the research, if I wanted to express a hot-headed opinion, takes time. Lawyers don't do that sort of work pro bono for bozos like me, either.

Posted by: dr2chase on January 19, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK
Answer: virtually none. And if you do fall into this category, I'm not sure why the particular technical method you use (i.e., blogging) should exempt you from the rules everyone else has to follow anyway.

The entire idea that advocacy of political action directed at the public was, in itself, "lobbying" that should be regulated in certain conditions—i.e., that rules should apply to anyone—was the component that was controversial, not whether the rules that "apply to everyone" should also apply to "bloggers".

At any rate, the issue may be largely dead for the moment, since the Senate has passed the bill without the provision that would create the new regulated category of "grassroots lobbying", anyway.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 19, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Bob Ney sentenced to 30 months in prison...

Posted by: Cry Me A River on January 19, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

FIWI, I did discuss this here and here briefly.

I apologize in advance for the blogwhore.

Posted by: David (Austin Tx) on January 19, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

dr2chase,

The Business Conduct Guidelines that I must review and sign every year state that I am encouraged as a good citizen to take part in politics but I must ensure that it is known I speak only for myself and not Thinking Machine Corporation.

My guess is that I should not use company property to do that because it might appear Thinking Machine Corporation advocates my personal positions.

Posted by: Tripp on January 19, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Lee Kuan Yew would be very proud of the US Congress if they could find a way to stop people from communicating about their national political desires. He would probably settle for the end of net neutrality, though, which could turn into a nice bipartisan policy that Congress could present to the people.

Posted by: Brojo on January 19, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Either way, the amendment was rejected,

No, Nicholas, the amendement passed. The effect of the amendment was to remove section 220 from S.1, so a Yes vote was a vote against that part of the original bill.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on January 19, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

I am out on the road now, and can't really do links, but the fringe sites are all aflutter about this. Go to www.infowars.com and you should find a fair amount of discussion about it. They think it does apply to bloggers, due to a provision that says if you reach more than 500 people, you are a lobbyist. Old man Bush particularly hates bloggers because of the way Kos ripped his boy a new asshole in the last election. Tough shit, eh??

His little boy needs to get better with The Google on the internets...

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 19, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

You mean that the conservative blogosphere grossly exaggerated and misrepresented an opponent's arsenal of WMDs?

I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked!

Posted by: Google_This on January 19, 2007 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe that should be (Reid's) WPDs for Weapons of Political Destruction, eh?

Posted by: Google_This on January 19, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm inclined to agree with the ACLU's brief against section 220, but I doubt that the ACLU should count this vote as a victory for their arguments.

Section 220 was intended to require "astroturf" (fake grassroots) organizers who get and/or spend more than $25,000 per quarter to disclose the sources of their funding.

So, naturally, the astroturf organizers who actually get and spend over $100,000 a year were the ones who organized an astroturf campaign of lies and fear to get rid of section 220.

Even when they're right, they're disgusting.

Posted by: nobody on January 19, 2007 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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