intimidation through registration

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Thursday, 18 January 2007

(Updated below to reflect the removal of this provision)

Courtesy of GR, I’ve learned of Senator Harry Reid’s introduction of legislation that would legislate bloggers:

[It] requires registration of bloggers with more than 500 readers, and who comment on policy issues. Violation would be a criminal offense.

Here are some specifics:

Section 220 of S. 1, the lobbying reform bill currently before the
Senate, would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to
500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report
quarterly to Congress the same as the big K Street lobbyists. Section 220
would amend existing lobbying reporting law by creating the most expansive
intrusion on First Amendment rights ever. For the first time in history,
critics of Congress will need to register and report with Congress itself.

The bill would require reporting of ‘paid efforts to stimulate
grassroots lobbying,’ but defines ‘paid’ merely as communications to 500 or
more members of the public, with no other qualifiers.

Well, it seems only fair. After all, bloggers, emailers, listservers and other electronic activists currently have no means in place to ensure that their political communications present all sides of an issue equally. Registration of bloggers is the first step toward ensuring blogger compliance with the newly introduced fairness doctrine.

Furthermore, registration would inevitably lead to a licensing fee to defray the overhead costs associated with the government maintaining all those blogger registration files. But that’s only fair too.

Finally, if you don’t get my sarcastic streak, I’m obviously not in favor of this mind-numbingly stupid and anti-constitutional idea. Nor do I expect it to get any traction–especially once Sen. Reid discovers that his registration scheme would more adversely effect his side of the aisle.

And once Reid does pull this bill, it will become even more transparent that this other bill, which he does support, is just a naked grab for the power to silence his critics. Those among us who believe strongly in the unrestrained exercise of free speech (by definition, that should include most bloggers), have a duty to oppose both bills. And so I echo Uncle’s sentiments:

You can pull this keyboard from my cold, dead hands.

(Updated to add Salon link)

2nd Update:

It appears that this “lobbying reform” bill may be the same bill. If so, Republicans seem to have derailed it–at least for now. I’m encouraged that Sen. Mitch McConnell is opposing it. If you’ll remember, he was one of the few to bravely lead the charge against the campaign finance (so called) reform bill that passed several years ago. He was right to call that bill an abridgement of free speech.

Apparently, not every blogger’s heart is warmed at the thought of Sen. McConnell’s blogger protection efforts. I guess that those with less traffic than 500 readers might not see it as the threat that it really is.

On the other hand, Rex, who does have that much traffic, thinks that there is not much to worry about with this bill:

“No lawmaker in America will want to be on record suggesting individual citizens be required to register as a lobbyst if more than 500 readers come to their weblog.”

I wish that I could be more heartened than I am by Rex’s application of common sense-by proxy to the minds of Congressmen.

3rd Update:

Late last night the Senate struck down the potentially offending section 220 of this bill in an amendment offered by Sen. Bennett. The amendment passed 55 to 43. Interestingly, not one of the 43 was a Republican.

I try to be as bipartisan as I can. However, I can’t help but to be troubled by the fact that less than a month into this new reign of Democratic rule on Capitol Hill we’ve had three attempts at silencing critics (here, here, and here).

It is often Republicans who are accused of wanting to stifle speech (pornography, evolution, wardrobe malfunctions, and the like). Obviously both sides are guilty. Although I am far more troubled by attempts at stifling political speech than I am by efforts to “sanitize” the airwaves. Still, Bill Hobbs has the best take:

But when it comes to our First Amendment rights, I am a absolutist. The First Amendment says

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And when it says Congress shall make no law, I believe that Congress should make no law.

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3 Responses to “intimidation through registration”

  1. Rex Hammock Says:

    Bob, thanks for helping perpetuate the perception that I have more than seven readers. Also, I confess. I am hopelessly optimistic when it comes to my belief in the common sense that can suddenly appear if right wing and left wing bloggers start pounding a lawmaker equally and relentlessly from both directions. More importantly, I can’t think of a constituency that would benefit from or support this type of registration — of individual, citizen bloggers. Obviously, I’m missing something as I can’t think of a reason that either a liberal or conservative group would support a provision requiring individual bloggers to register with the federal government.

  2. Citizen Netmom » First Amendment Threat Says:

    […] Bob Krumm wraps it up nicely, too: I’m obviously not in favor of this mind-numbingly stupid and anti-constitutional idea. Nor do I expect it to get any traction–especially once Sen. Reid discovers that his registration scheme would more adversely effect his side of the aisle. […]

  3. bob Says:

    Rex,
    I can think of only one constituency that benefits from this provision: incumbent Congressmen–who make it more difficult for citizens to criticize them.