March 3, 2005

Sink McCain/Feingold

All right then. At last I am convinced. John McCain and Russ Feingold’s “campaign finance reform” is a threat to free speech. At the very least, the way some people interpret it is a threat to free speech.

Matt Welch put the seed of doubt in my mind in an interview with Norman Geras.
I used to think that enacting campaign finance reform legislation was the most important political issue in the United States, and that most people who worried about its effects on free speech were disingenuous. I no longer do.
Hmm, I thought when I saw that. Matt is a smart guy. Whether I agree with him or not (and very often I do) he knows how to make me think. I knew he must have a good point, that he must have learned something important, even though he didn’t hint at what it might be. I filed the thought and knew some day I would see or read or hear about something and it would click whether I changed my mind about it or not.

That day has arrived. The FEC may soon regulate blogging.

It’s shady when gigantic corporations cut fat checks to political parties and candidates. It’s even shadier when gigantic corporations cut fat checks to both parties at once. (This is otherwise known as “covering your bases.”) Don’t tell me it’s charity. Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott really don’t need anyone’s charity money.

But what on earth could possibly be shady about little old me linking to Barack Obama’s or Rudy Giuliani’s Web site? Not a damn thing, unless they pay me to do it and I don’t disclose that payment. But then we’re talking about ethics, not law.

Not according to McCain/Feingold as it’s being interpreted now by the feds. They seem to think if I link to a politician’s Web site it’s the equivalent of giving them money. I could be fined if I go over my limit. (Sigh.)

So Matt Welch (along with plenty of others) was right. It really is a threat to free speech, whether it was intended that way or not.

This has united the blogosphere. Everyone from Atrios and Daily Kos to Charles Johnson and Ace of Spades is rightly bitching about it.

Say what you will. Oh, now you’re against it when it threatens you personally. Well, yeah. I don’t give tens of thousands of dollars to senators so I can buy access and the expectation of getting my phone calls returned. I’m just a guy with a modem and an opinion.

I suppose the CEOs of multinational corporations are just guys (and gals) with opinions (and interests) as well. And I suppose they’re more “important” than me because they make stuff we want and provide jobs in the community. Maybe they should get their phone calls returned before I do. But I’ll bet ten to one that those who donate scads of money get more access and returned calls than those who don’t. I mean, come on, why be naïve about this?

So I don’t know. I still kinda like the idea of campaign finance reform. But that doesn’t change the fact that McCain/Feingold needs to be sunk. It goes way too far, and I’ll be damned if the federal government tells me what I can and can’t write on this blog. This is not Iran, and this is not Syria.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 3, 2005 11:53 PM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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