The Alabama Moderate

Painting the Red State Purple.

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Will political bloggers have to register? Not necessarily.

Posted by ALmod on January 18, 2007

Well, Slashdot is partially to blame for this little gem, but to be fair, it didn’t start with them. Here’s the discussion in question. Here’s the article it links to.

Now, when I first saw this particular discussion, I asked myself, “Haven’t I seen this somewhere before?” Yep. I saw it earlier this week, when I was looking up the list of companies that the American Family Association is currently boycotting. (By the way, in case you didn’t know, Ford’s drop in sales is solely due to the effort of this fine group of people. It has nothing to do with the overall drop that American automakers are experiencing due to failure to produce a product that Americans want.) While there, I noticed that the AFA was telling its loyal flock that SB1 (also known as the “Senate Ethics Reform Bill”) would keep them from getting important information about a bill. They singled out Section 220.

Then, I see on Slashdot today that Section 220 will not only keep me from getting important information about a bill, it will also force political bloggers to register with the government and further restrict my freedom of speech. Wow! That’s a nasty bill! I should write my senators immediately and have them stop this insanity! Or should I?

Before you take these views as absolute unquestionable fact, have you actually read the bill? I have. Here’s the text, if you need to find it. I’m not going to paste the whole thing here since I just gave a link, but I will post a gem from the second line down: “Lobbying activities include paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying, but do not include grassroots lobbying.” Granted, the definition of “grassroots lobbying” does include blogs, mailers, and anything else to bolster a letter-writing campaign to a group of lawmakers. However, the lobbying activities do not include these. What it does include are paid efforts to stimulate them. In other words, if you run a political blog, and nobody pays you to do so, then this doesn’t affect you. If, however, the AFA is raising money to encourage me to write a blog, that has to be reported. The section has nothing to do with giving you less information about a bill. It is actually the exact opposite. It tells you who is behind paid efforts to influence that legislation in addition to the information you already have available to you. Groups like the AFA, Christian Coalition, and Focus on the Family (among others) will finally be labeled as lobbyists.

The group that claims that blogs (a.k.a. “grassroots lobbying”) will have to register skips down to the definition of “grassroots lobbying” and completely overlooks the very first real sentence in the legislation, saying that the new law applies only to “paid efforts to stimulate” and not to “grassroots lobbying.”

Someone somewhere else pointed out that it “doesn’t include” lobbying efforts by corporations and other, larger entities. True that it isn’t covered in Section 220, but it is covered elsewhere in the bill. The reasons why these “smaller groups” were covered in particular is because they were not previously covered, and larger groups were able to hide behind them and sneak by. In effect, a very big loophole is being closed, and these “smaller groups” and the “larger groups” that hide behind them don’t like it. (Yes, there are more loopholes to be closed, but it’s a start.)

In short, SB1 is a good thing. You won’t have to register your blog unless a group (and their money) is behind it. You won’t have less info about legislation; you will have more. But don’t take my word for it. Read it yourself.

I’m fully prepared to admit that I’m not a lawyer, so I might be missing something very important somewhere. Wheeler, Dr. Taylor, and others, I’d like to hear your takes on this.


2 Responses to “Will political bloggers have to register? Not necessarily.”

  1. Don said

    The Washington Times had an article about this @

  2. The Alabama Moderate said

    DANGER: The Washington Post also failed to mention that you must be hired by a client to state that opinion AND be paid or agree to spend $25K in a three-month period in order to be covered under the legislation. You don’t have to meet just one of those qualifiers, you have to meet ALL of those qualifiers. A preacher is more than welcome to state his opinion and advise his congregation to contact their senator as long as he isn’t spending or being paid $25K to do it AND as long as he hasn’t entered into an agreement with a client to do so. Many could argue the $25K qualifier for a church, but unless they are contracted to a client to state that opinion, they don’t qualify. Unfortunately, this could go the other way around, the client could contract them to state an opinion, but unless he’s paid at least $25K (or spends it), he doesn’t have to register. It leaves another loophole open.

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