Author Topic: Grass-Roots Activists and Bloggers Brace for New Regulation  (Read 1408 times)

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Offline Wilf

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Grass-Roots Activists and Bloggers Brace for New Regulation
« on: March 24, 2006, 02:07:48 PM »
NewsMax isn't one of my favorite sources, but I happened to catch this article posted elsewhere and thought it important.

The pace of totalitarianism is quickening. . . breathtaking, actually, unless one forces themself to breathe and FOCUS.

BTW, Jim Robinson over at Freepers is having a stroke over this.  It's interesting to see  folks get bit in the ass by the very ones they've supported.

Grass-Roots Activists and Bloggers Brace for New Regulation

Jason Barnes,
    Thursday, March 23, 2006

They are two of America's free, unregulated voices of political activism but a gathering storm of Washington regulation threatens to stifle them forever.

Grass-roots activists and Internet bloggers, who largely escaped the restrictions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act, are the targets of a looming, two-pronged government assault which aims to lasso and corral the last wild mustangs on the political range.

Regulating Grass-Roots Activists

The Senate is scheduled to debate lobbying reform shortly after it returns from this week's recess. While most congressional attention has focused on measures aimed at traditional lobbyists and lawmakers, there also have been attempts to impose restrictive new rules on grass-roots lobbying organizations.

Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., are pushing a proposal to require these organizations to register and to report to Congress on their activities. Failure to comply would result in civil or criminal penalties.

The proposal has grass-roots organizations understandably nervous. Using direct mail, phone banks and the Internet, these groups hail from all points on the political compass and portray themselves, not always accurately, as outsiders to the Washington scene.

The underlying goal for every grass-roots operation is to mobilize an army of citizen activists to support their pet issues. Typically, they encourage the bombardment of congressional offices with constituent communications. Alerted and prodded, citizen activists daily send thousands of letters, e-mails, faxes and phone calls to Congress.

Occasionally, these efforts make life exceedingly difficult for congressional interns and lowly staffers charged with responding to each communication.

However, they also inform lawmakers about issues which engage their constituents' support and opposition `“ if by no other measure than the sheer volume of constituent contacts.

McCain's proposal defines grass-roots lobbying broadly. He wants to regulate "any attempt to influence the general public ... to engage in lobbying contacts, whether or not those contacts were made on behalf of a client." In a rare bit of leniency, he exempts attempts to influence fewer than 500 people.

Opponents put it more bluntly. "Basically, it tells groups that if they want to petition Congress in any significant way, they have to tell Congress about it first," explained Jason Wright, executive director of LobbySense, an ad-hoc coalition formed to oppose the McCain proposal.

"If you want to attack a lawmaker's proposal, you have to tell them you're going to attack them before you do it," he continued, `˜and you have to provide the details of how you're going to solicit support, too.

"The more folks outside the beltway bubble learn about the anti-grass-roots provisions of this bill ... the more outraged they become. This issue is igniting and uniting grass-roots activists like few ever have."

Reformers say the bill is aimed at stopping so-called "astro-turfing;" the use of grass-roots marketing techniques by major trade associations and lobbying firms without an explicitly stated connection to the effort. McCain and Lieberman argue that these tactics are dishonest and prone to abuse. Some charge that embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff covertly used the "astro-turfing" loophole to spend money from casino-operating Indian tribes on anti-gambling campaigns against competing tribes.

But opponents are undeterred. "I don't know enough about the Abramoff situation," said LobbySense's Wright, "but I do know how most grass-roots lobbying firms work, and there's nothing untoward about those operations.

"Look - there are laws on the books that took care of Abramoff. He's going to jail. We're not against punishing the bad guys. We're against re-defining who the bad guys are."

Bloggers `“ The Second Front

The House, meanwhile, is considering the Online Freedom of Speech Act proposed by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, The "blogger protection bill," as it is known in some circles, simply codifies the current status of Internet bloggers. Senators Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., are co-sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate.

Blogger-backers believe the bills are necessary because the Federal Election Commission is considering whether to apply the rules of McCain-Feingold to Internet communications. In fact, FEC Chairman Michael Toner delayed a long-awaited decision on the matter until the end of March to allow the House to consider Hensarling's bill.

Given Toner's public support for the measure, bloggers believe the delay was a warning. "It couldn't be more clear," wrote Michael Krempasky, one of the founders of Red State, a popular conservative blog. "Pass [this bill] or face regulations on the Internet, period."

Instead, the House passed on the opportunity to vote on the bill. It was held up in committee. At present, it does not appear that it will pass before the FEC decision. A staffer in Hensarling's office told NewsMax they anticipate floor debate sometime during the week of March 28, but it's still unclear whether it will pass at that point.

All this uncertainty has bloggers right and left in full activist mode and has made for some strange bedfellows. Markos Zuniga, founder of the ultra-liberal Daily Kos blog, has teamed with Krempasky to organize bi-partisan support for the bill. In an open letter to Congress, the unlikely duo explained why there is no need for campaign-finance reform on the Internet.

"While wealth allows a campaign or large donor to dominate the available space on TV or in print," they wrote, "there is no mechanism on the Internet by which entities can use wealth or organizational strength to crowd out or silence other speakers." They argue that the Internet is an equal playing field where anyone can start a Web site and "content is king."

Traditional media organizations have come out in favor of increased regulation.  (Note:  That would be the 'jews' who own the media.)  "It is imperative," wrote the New York Times in an editorial, "that the courageous lawmakers who supported the McCain-Feingold reform law four years ago stand together against making the Internet a cornucopia of political corruption."

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, countered, "A better argument for the New York Times would be to tell America that they really want to end political conversation on the Internet to resurrect their power over political commentary."

Some congressional opponents are pushing an alternative bill which bloggers say does not provide them with enough protection. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, admitted as much on the Hill. "They might well have to file," Allen said of sites like Daily Kos and Red State, "but that's the whole point."

Ulterior Motives

Grass-roots activists and bloggers insist there is little, if any, corruption in their respective and often overlapping realms. They ascribe ulterior, more sinister, motives to their would-be regulators. (Yes.) Zuniga believes they are motivated by a desire to quash grass-roots media because sites like Daily Kos and Red State threaten traditional bases of power. (Yes.)  That belief is essentially the thesis for "Crashing the Gates," his new book and first foray into traditional publishing.

Zuniga reserves his strongest venom for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "This is intended to squash citizen media," he said. (Yes.)  "Pelosi and company are complicit, no matter how much they lie about their intentions."

Wright believes at least one of the would-be regulators is animated by revenge. "John McCain has real issues with the grassroots," he explained. "This spans back to 2000 and I think he still holds a grudge against grass-roots America. "I've heard rumors saying Senators are for this because they say they're tired of hearing from these grass-roots groups," he said.

"We have the right to annoy the hell out of them, as does every single citizen in the United States. They serve us - we don't serve them!" he added.  (Yes!)

Richard Viguerie, a pioneer in grass-roots lobbying, finds still other motives. "Washington is about power," he wrote in an op-ed piece for the Washington Times. "Those who have power fear losing it ... Independent grass-roots causes inherently threaten incumbents' power by empowering citizens." As a result, he argues that grass-roots reform is an attempt to "pre-empt critics," making grass-roots lobbying more difficult and protecting vested power.

The Ultimate Destination?

In the absence of a crystal ball, it is unclear where either of these proposals will end. Wright believes the Senate will reject the McCain proposal, but he's not willing to pronounce the bill dead just yet.

Blogger opinions are mixed on the ultimate outcome of the bill which targets them. Brad Smith, a former chairman of the FEC and frequent blogger on Red State, says bloggers are winning, but others are less optimistic, pointing out that Congress already has had ample opportunity to protect bloggers but declined to do so.

One thing is certain - there will be a constitutional courtroom clash if either regulation comes down on grass-roots activists or bloggers. Grass-roots activists and bloggers hope it never gets to that point, so they are doing their best to persuade lawmakers to their side. In so doing, they are using the very methods that might become highly regulated or illegal in just a few months.

In an ironic twist, Zuniga concluded his rant against Pelosi by listing her office phone number and urging readers to contact her office. Six months from now, he might have to file not just one but two reports with Congress for permission to speak his mind in such a manner - one for his role as a blogger and yet another, as a grass-roots lobbyist communicating his message to over 500 citizens.