Online politics conference, day 1

Online politics conference, day 1: I’m attending the Politics Online Conference
at George Washington University and the reasons I didn’t blog from it
yesterday were, one, there was little worth blogging and two, there was
no wi-fi, huh? (Today, there is supposed to be wi-fi.)

The vast
majority of the day was spent rehashing 2004 online campaign
activities. As those activities have already been rehashed more than
anything ever should be rehashed, it made for a very, well, boring few
hours. (Have ya’ll heard that Dean raised lots of money on the

I attended a session on how to build a movement from
scratch. The session quickly turned into a 45 minute discussion of how
the panelists built their e-mail list, how often you can send e-mail,
and what you should say in an e-mail, and what percentage of people
open e-mail.

I didn’t have the heart to raise my hand and ask the
panelists what happens when everyone discovers they can enjoy a better
life by stopping all the crap they get via e-mail and use a newsreader
with RSS subscriptions? I had already determined that the panelists
were all hell-bent on talking about what worked in 2004 and not about
the reality of what the world is going to look like in 2006 and beyond.

to people who think “podcasting” means putting something on the web in
an MP3 format. Clue: It’s not the audiofile, it’s the RSS delivery of
the audiofile that provides the secret sauce and the “something new”
component that makes podcasting more than streaming audio or providing
files that people can manually download.)

The only “news” and I
put “news” in quotes because it was not really “news” but some more
posturing by an FEC commissioner, this time Commissioner David Mason.

So, here goes. Here’s the news:

FEC Commissioner David Mason
told attendees of the Online Political Conference that a “notice of
proposed rule making” regarding regulations related to blogging will be
issued WITHIN 30 DAYS.

That’s the news. The following is commentary on my part:

Mason, when I challenged him to clarify if John Q. Public blogger had
anything to worry about, immediately reverted to a ploy he must have
learned on the high school debate team and referred me to some
government document. When pushed, however (I wasn’t on the debate team,
but on the school paper) he said that a John Q. Public who is
blogging from home on a computer her or she owns, is safe, but that if
that computer he or she blogs is also used for business purposes or is
provided by a union,
then, in theory there’s a possibility of a hypothetical argument that
could be made that it couldn’t be used for political purposes.

this merely an incident of a technology advancing faster than the
intent of the law?” I asked. “It’s hard to determine intent,” he said.

“No it’s not,” I said (no, wait, I just thought that, I didn’t actually say it.).

If I had followed up I would have then said, “It’s not hard to determine your intent.”

Another thing:

Commissioner David Mason does not understand the blogosphere. He’s
thinking Kos and instapundit and not obscure weblog outposts like, for
instance, the rexblog.

He spent several minutes pondering whether
or not blogs are “publications” and protected speech. (Note to
regulators: the word “publication” is a metaphor when applied to the
web. The blogging format is a set of conventions. Blogging is a medium,
or a software platform, or to use a paper metaphor, a blank page, with
which anyone can do whatever they want. The last government regulatory
agency I want determining what a blog is, is the FEC, especially if its
members are like David Mason who seems more interested in how much an
ad costs per day on Instapundit than on what the vast majority of
bloggers are doing.

Bottom line: This faux controversy is not
going away. However, the real rule making issue will focus on the role
of blogs by regulated political and advocacy groups — those groups
that are already subjected to regulation and have to work within those

For hardcore political bloggers there may be
guidelines and regulations they will need to familiarize themselves
with and adhere to. But for the citizen blogger (and, I will go on
record saying the “business vs. home” computer issue is a red herring
— but that’s only my guess) I predict that if the FEC approves any
“anti-blogging” rules affecting individual citizens, there will be
lawmakers stampeding to save blogger’s right to link to their
lawmaker’s campaign website.


2 thoughts on “Online politics conference, day 1

  1. Rex,

    great post. I was at the conference too and your summary of the first day is dead on… I swear if I hear any more dissection of Howard Dean’s magic online ATM machine I’m gonna scream 🙂

    The only thing I would disagree with is your characterization of the business vs. home computer issue for bloggers as a red herring. I thought that was really the only serious argument Commissioner Mason put forward for why the FEC should get involved with blogs at all.

    The reason is because there are some organizations that aren’t supposed to be making “contributions” to candidates at all, and others whose contributions are pretty strictly regulated. If I work for one of those organizations and I’m using their PC and their bandwidth to effectively campaign for a candidate, that’s something the FEC has an interest in.

    I thought it was encouraging that Commissioner Mason raised the possibility of a blanket exemption for individual bloggers. I personally would argue for such an exemption, mostly because the burden of accounting for all these tiny “contributions” and meting out penalties would probably swamp the FEC. But we’ll find out in 30 days when the NPRM hits the Federal Register, eh?

    Anyway, thanks for pushing him on the issue and making a boring session somewhat less so 🙂

  2. OK but I’m going to go with Rex on this one. And as we all know, Rex and I rarely, if ever, agree on anything. The reason that business political contributions are different from personal ones are that businesses have a materially different standing in the public arena. For one, they can’t vote. For another, their resources and interests are significantly different from an individuals — normally, their resources are greater and their interests may be opposed to those of an individual.

    When it comes to something like a brochure, let’s say, a printer could contribute a brochure to a campaign [assuming that that’s legal] and that would be the difference between whether the brochure is created or not. Because brochures cost money to print and mail.

    But computer time can’t be considered the same kind of economic contribution, unless it’s a unique kind of supercomputer or database. It’s a commodity with no inherent value. When it comes to writing a blog, your work computer is the same as your home computer is the same as the one at the public library is the same as the one at your church.

    If your employer DIRECTS you to write a blog entry supporting a candidate, that’s a campaign contribution I suppose. But if you take your work computer home, or stay late to do it on your own, that’s not. What’s the difference? And why on earth is that worth the FEC’s time? Last I heard, there were REAL campaign finance problems in this country. This ain’t one of ’em.

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