To the honorable Senators McCain and Feingold, et al:
I have read with considerable dismay the effect that your recent lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission, upheld by Judge Colleen Kollar-Ketelly, will have on political speech on the Internet. I write a political media-watchdog blog, Captain's Quarters, which enjoys a not-insubstantial daily readership. No one pays me to do this; I operate my site and write on topics purely from personal convictions and a deep desire to improve the world around me and make the nation stronger. I can unequivocally say the same about my many colleagues in the "blogosphere", both liberal and conservative.
Now we understand from Bradley Smith, one of the FEC commissioners, that your lawsuit forcing them to regulate speech on the Internet will have the effect of turning our efforts into in-kind contributions, especially when we provide hyperlinks back to candidate sites for referencing their positions and excerpt text from their on-line documents. Hyperlinks allow our readers to check our references to ensure our accuracy and context, and perform the hygienic task of holding our politicians accountable for their campaign practices. All of this not only should fall under the protection of the First Amendment, but it should be the primary reason for the First Amendment -- to protect and encourage free political speech and foster genuine debate.
Your legislation and the accompanying lawsuit that forced the FEC to regulate Internet political speech threaten all of that. If my links to political sites such as Georgewbush.com and Johnkerry.com counted as contributions and I was forced to accept responsibility for the cash value that the FEC designated to them, I would have been charged with several misdemeanors and possibly felonies, as I provided many such links during the past election cycle. During this cycle, my blog published over 680 essays on the presidential election. In fact, I linked to Senator Kerry's site four times as often as President Bush's site, which would have meant to the FEC that I was a major contributor to his campaign -- when in fact I opposed Senator Kerry and supported President Bush. These regulations would have forced me to retain the services of a full-time accountant and retain an attorney to understand when and where I overcontributed. At the very least, the burden of proof would be on me to make the FEC believe that my blog does not constitute in-kind contributions subject to the limits imposed on both hard and soft money contributions.
The effect of this would have been to force me to shut down my blog, or convert it to something else. In fact, it would have caused me less legal heartache to convert my site to a porn blog and do nothing but post hard-core pictures all day long. In the twisted environment of the McCain-Feingold Act, that kind of website would enjoy greater First Amendment protection than my political speech, a result for which every single Senator should feel shame and outrage.
Each of you should read the Constitution you swore to uphold and defend, and reflect on the unequivocal language of our forefathers:
"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."
We may debate about the effect of unregulated cash on our electoral system, but if this new FEC effort comes to pass, the only people debating will be the corporate-owned media and the politicians. The rest of us will have been effectively bound and gagged, unable to contribute in any way thanks to the efforts of those who fear their own constituents. You can be assured that none of us in the blogosphere will fail to recognize those who do not act to defend our rights to free and unfettered political speech, and regardless of political party, none of us will rest until those voices of repression are stripped of office by the voters they hold in such low regard.
I, for one, will not be daunted by your attempts to stifle us. My many friends and colleagues on both sides of the political aisle stand as ready as I to defend the Constitution. We demand a hearing on McCain-Feingold, with open testimony before the press and our colleagues, and we demand action to reform or repeal this dangerous and un-American muzzle on political speech.
We await your response, sirs.
Update: Liberalish Michael Totten says, "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."
Update: Ace of Spades says: "Your News Is Now Being Censored By McCain-Feingold
Just wanted everyone to know that, gee willickers, a couple of connected partisans sent me an article I find interesting and that I think you'd enjoy too, but, alas, I'm not allowed to "coordinate" with anyone so I guess I just won't post it."
Update: Roger Simon says, "Just for the record, no matter what the FEC decrees, I will continue to link to campaign websites whenever I want. If they put me into jail for it, so be it. You meet a better class of people there than you do on the Federal Election Commission."