Campaign finance reform advocate Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has refused to support Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's proposed legislation that would prohibit Internet regulation under the McCain-Feingold act. Reid's bill -- which specifically heralds blogging as a "new and important form of political speech" -- would assuage the concerns of a wide coalition of bloggers, who fear that the regulation of online political activity could stifle free speech. Whether McCain-Feingold extends to the Internet is still a subject of debate, though last year a Republican federal judge ruled that it did.
Feingold popped up on Daily Kos on Tuesday to clarify his position, arguing that Reid's sweeping bill -- essentially a one-liner exempting the Web -- is deceptive. In his view, the legislation would do more than protect bloggers; it would set up a free-for-all of dirty campaigning.
"It would allow, for example, state parties to use unlimited soft money donations to attack federal candidates on the Internet, using paid advertising and expensive video streaming," Feingold wrote. "It would allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of their shareholders' money denouncing one federal candidate on websites even if that campaign was designed and directed by that candidate's opponent."
Which isn't to say that he's not a fan of the blogosphere in general. He listed some of his favorite sites ("dailykos, mydd, alternet") and cheered that "the people who post or write for these sites are VERY well informed about the issues of the day."
The senator also mused that blogging reminds him of the cordial exchanges he enjoys in his home state: "Just like you, sometimes I don't agree with the conclusions posted, but I do think that there is a fundamental fairness to most of the comments that, for me, is very much in keeping with Wisconsin's tradition of civil discourse." (Feingold must have overlooked the numerous sites dedicated to unfounded partisan invective.)
Feingold stressed that stifling free speech online isn't his aim: "Blogs should be able ... to do whatever they like, say what they want, and link to whoever and whatever they want, with no interference. And bloggers should be allowed to profit."
The only regulation of blogs he advocates is the requirement that "if bloggers are being paid by a campaign, they should have to disclose that."
"I think that in this area disclosure, not restriction, is the probably best policy," he added, "and Kos agrees with that because he had his own disclaimer during the last election."
(Still, it's intriguing that Feingold chose DailyKos as his venue; last fall the blog was party to some controversy on this very issue.)
Feingold's overarching point is that exempting the Internet from the bill that carries his name would "open a huge loophole" that "would undo all of the successes" of recent campaign finance reform laws.
And maybe that explains why Reid has some unlikely (and perhaps unwelcome) company on the issue: Tom DeLay. The embattled House Majority Leader is hardly the Internet's biggest fan, but he's certainly been eager himself to keep the Web free of any regulation.