It seems the FEC is trying to regulate the Internet.
This is a scary thing considering that they seem to have very little understanding of how the Internet is revolutionizing communications, information sharing, and politics. Without the basic understanding of this revolution, they will inevitably, if with the intention of doing good, get it wrong.
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against common sense rules like requiring bloggers to disclose it if they are being paid by a campaign, even if they are not being paid to blog. By the way, the same rule should apply to every TV reporter, Radio reporters, and newspaper journalists. However, putting the Internet and Bloggers under the arcane rules of non-Internet communication is simply ridiculous. Look at the kind of things they are talking about. Judging the value of a link posted on a blog or website, and counting that as an "in-kind" contribution. Forcing bloggers to open their sources against the rules of journalistic integrity. Restricting what a blogger can post as far as political campaigns go.
The Internet - or the InternetS, as Bush would say - is a place where the first amendment comes together. The freedoms of speech, press, and assembly are intertwined on the Internet. I can go wave a sign that says Kerry/Edwards or Bush/Chenney out in the public and nobody tries to count that
as an "in-kind" contribution. "Journalists" can write flattering or damning articles about candidates, and those
don't count against campaign finance rules. I can go to a rally or a protest and that
doesn't count as an in-kind contribution. These three are respectively examples of the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly. But in the real world, it is rare that all three happens at the same time. You don't protest and write and publish it all at the same time. You don't wave a sign and publish articles at the very same moment. The Internet makes the simultaneous excercise of ALL 3 of these rights. On the Democracy for America Blog, or on Daily Kos, there is a user community and bloggers who at the same time: post stories of relevence on the blog, say whether they like that or not, and instantly get it out to the world. The world instantly responds with their own information, agreements and disagreements. Until this dynamic is understood completely, it is a terrible mistake to try to control the Internet.
If a labor union or a business PAC holds a fundraiser for a candidate, that can be regulated as contribution, and fairly so. However, when a website directs people to go to a web page and donate directly
to the campaign instead of having to go through that extra loop, what do you do? The donor donated directly to the campaign out of his/her own free will. Yes they were referred there by a blog, but if you hear about a campaign from a friend, should the FEC make your friend file paperwork for a PAC? So you see, the Internet is where the power of the people to organize and share information manifests itself in the best of democracy. Advocacy is at its best, while eliminating a middle man. Being referred to donate to a campaign from a website is really more like a friend with the website telling you about the candidate, and far less like a PAC raising money for a candidate. It's really quite futile to try to draw parallels between the offline campaign laws and online scenarios.
If you want to set rules for the Internet, write a new set of guidelines that is completely different from the rules of the offline game. Trying to extend the same rules that exist offline on blogs is stupid, since it's an entirely different ballgame.
If the FEC messes with this, I do hope the Congress does step in and exempt the Internet (for now) from the Campaign Finance laws.