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The Plot to Shush Rush and O’Reilly
City Journal ^ | Winter 2006 | Brian C. Anderson

Posted on 01/12/2006 8:00:22 PM PST by FreeKeys

Talk radio, cable news, and the blogosphere freed U.S. political discourse. The Left wants to rein it in again.

The rise of alternative media—political talk radio in the eighties, cable news in the nineties, and the blogosphere in the new millennium—has broken the liberal monopoly over news and opinion outlets. The Left understands acutely the implications of this revolution, blaming much of the Democratic Party’s current electoral trouble on the influence of the new media’s vigorous conservative voices. Instead of fighting back with ideas, however, today’s liberals quietly, relentlessly, and illiberally are working to smother this flourishing universe of political discourse under a tangle of campaign-finance and media regulations. Their campaign represents the most sustained attack on free political speech in the United States since the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts. Though Republicans have the most to lose in the short run, all Americans who care about our most fundamental rights and the civic health of our democracy need to understand what’s going on—and resist it.

The most imminent danger comes from campaign-finance rules, especially those spawned by the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act. Republican maverick John McCain’s co-sponsorship aside, the bill passed only because of overwhelming Dem support. It’s easy to see why liberals have spearheaded the nation’s three-decade experiment with campaign-finance regulation. Seeking to rid politics of “big-money corruption,” election-law reforms obstruct the kinds of political speech—political ads and perhaps now the feisty editorializing of the new media—that escape the filter of the mainstream press and the academy, left-wing fiefdoms still regulation-free. Campaign-finance reform, notes columnist George Will, by steadily expanding “government’s control of the political campaigns that decide who controls government,” advances “liberalism’s program of extending government supervision of life.”

The irony of campaign-finance reform is that the “corruption” it targets seems not to exist in any widespread sense. Studies galore have found little or no significant influence of campaign contributions on legislators’ votes. Ideological commitments, party positions, and constituents’ wishes are what motivate the typical politician’s actions in office. Aha! reformers will often riposte, the corruption is hidden, determining what Congress doesn’t do—like enacting big gas taxes. But as Will notes, “that charge is impossible to refute by disproving a negative.” Even so, such conspiracy-theory thinking is transforming election law into what journalist Jonathan Rauch calls “an engine of unlimited political regulation.”

McCain-Feingold, the latest and scariest step down that slope, makes it a felony for corporations, nonprofit advocacy groups, and labor unions to run ads that criticize—or even name or show—members of Congress within 60 days of a federal election, when such quintessentially political speech might actually persuade voters. It forbids political parties from soliciting or spending “soft money” contributions to publicize the principles and ideas they stand for. Amending the already baffling campaign-finance rules from the seventies, McCain-Feingold’s dizzying dos and don’ts, its detailed and onerous reporting requirements of funding sources—which require a dense 300-page book to lay out—have made running for office, contributing to a candidate or cause, or advocating without an attorney at hand unwise and potentially ruinous.

Not for nothing has Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas denounced McCain-Feingold’s “unprecedented restrictions” as an “assault on the free exchange of ideas.”

Campaign-finance reform has a squeaky-clean image, but the dirty truth is that this speech-throttling legislation is partly the result of a hoax perpetrated by a handful of liberal foundations, led by the venerable Pew Charitable Trusts. New York Post reporter Ryan Sager exposed the scam when he got hold of a 2004 videotape of former Pew official Sean Treglia telling a roomful of journalists and professors how Pew and other foundations spent years bankrolling various experts, ostensibly independent nonprofits (including the Center for Public Integrity and Democracy 21), and media outlets (NPR got $1.2 million for “news coverage of financial influence in political decision-making”)—all aimed at fooling Washington into thinking that Americans were clamoring for reform, when in truth there was little public pressure to “clean up the system.” “The target group for all this activity was 535 people in Washington,” said Treglia matter-of-factly, referring to Congress. “The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot—that everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform.”

Treglia urged grantees to keep Pew’s role hush-hush. “If Congress thought this was a Pew effort,” he confided, “it’d be worthless. It’d be 20 million bucks thrown down the drain.” At one point, late in the congressional debate over McCain-Feingold, “we had a scare,” Treglia said. “George Will stumbled across a report we had done. . . . He started to reference the fact that Pew was playing a large role . . . [and] that it was a liberal attempt to hoodwink Congress. . . . The good news, from my perspective, was that journalists . . . just didn’t care and nobody followed up.” The hoaxers—a conspiracy of eight left-wing foundations, including George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation—have actually spent $123 million trying to get other people’s money out of politics since 1994, Sager reports—nearly 90 percent of the spending by the entire campaign-finance lobby over this period.

The ultimate pipe dream of the reformers is a rigidly egalitarian society, where government makes sure that every individual’s influence over politics is exactly the same, regardless of his wealth. Scrutinize the pronouncements of campaign-finance reform groups like the Pew-backed Democracy 21, and you’ll see how the meaning of “corruption” morphs into “inequality of influence” in this sense. This notion of corruption—really a Marxoid opposition to inequality of wealth—would have horrified the Founding Fathers, who believed in private property with its attendant inequalities, and who trusted to the clash of factions to ensure that none oppressed the others. The Founders would have seen in the reformers’ utopian schemes, in which the power of government makes all equally weak, the embodiment of tyranny.

To eradicate “corruption,” leading theorists of campaign-finance reform, such as Ohio State University law professor (and former Ohio state solicitor) Edward Foley, Loyola law prof Richard Hasen, and radical redistributionist philosopher Ronald Dworkin, want to replace privately financed campaigns with a system in which government would guarantee “equal dollars per voter,” as Foley puts it, perhaps by giving all Americans the same number of political “coupons,” which they could then redeem on the political activities of their choice. This super-powerful government would ban all other political expenditures and require all political groups to get operating licenses from it, with stiff criminal penalties for violators. The experts have even started calling for draconian media restrictions to achieve their egalitarian aims. In Foley’s view, the chilling of speech is “the necessary price we must pay in order to have an electoral system that guarantees equal opportunity for all.” But when these experts pen law-review articles with titles like “Campaign Finance Laws and the Rupert Murdoch Problem,” you know it isn’t the New York Times or CBS News that they have in mind.

Campaign-finance reform now has the blogosphere in its crosshairs. When the Federal Election Commission wrote specific rules in 2002 to implement McCain-Feingold, it voted 4 to 2 to exempt the Web. After all, observed the majority of three Republicans and one Democrat (the agency divides its seats evenly between the two parties), Congress didn’t list the Internet among the “public communications”—everything from television to roadside billboards—that the FEC should regulate. Further, “the Internet is virtually a limitless resource, where the speech of one person does not interfere with the speech of anyone else,” reasoned Republican commissioner Michael Toner. “Whereas campaign finance regulation is meant to ensure that money in politics does not corrupt candidates or officeholders, or create the appearance thereof, such rationales cannot plausibly be applied to the Internet, where on-line activists can communicate about politics with millions of people at little or no cost.”

But when the chief House architects of campaign-finance reform, joined by McCain and Feingold, sued—claiming that the Internet was one big “loophole” that allowed big money to keep on corrupting—a federal judge agreed, ordering the FEC to clamp down on Web politics. Then-commissioner Bradley Smith and the two other Republicans on the FEC couldn’t persuade their Democratic colleagues to vote to appeal.

The FEC thus has plunged into what Smith calls a “bizarre” rule-making process that could shackle the political blogosphere. This would be a particular disaster for the Right, which has maintained its early advantage over the Left in the blogosphere, despite the emergence of big liberal sites like Daily Kos. Some 157 of the top 250 political blogs express right-leaning views, a recent liberal survey found. Reaching a growing and influential audience—hundreds of thousands of readers weekly (including most journalists) for the top conservative sites—the blogosphere has enabled the Right to counter the biases of the liberal media mainstream. Without the blogosphere, Howell Raines would still be the New York Times’s editor, Dan Rather would only now be retiring, garlanded with praise—and John Kerry might be president of the U.S., assuming that CBS News had gotten away with its last-minute falsehood about President Bush’s military service that the diligent bloggers at PowerLine, LittleGreenFootballs, and other sites swiftly debunked.

Are the hundreds of political blogs that have sprouted over the last few years—twenty-first-century versions of the Revolutionary era’s political pamphlets—“press,” and thus exempt from FEC regulations? Liberal reform groups like Democracy 21 say no. “We do not believe anyone described as a ‘blogger’ is by definition entitled to the benefit of the press exemption,” they collectively sniffed in a brief to the FEC. “While some bloggers may provide a function very similar to more classical media activities, and thus could reasonably be said to fall within the exemption, others surely do not.” The key test, the groups claimed, should be whether the blogger is performing a “legitimate press function.” But who decides what is legitimate? And what in the Constitution gives him the authority to do so?

A first, abandoned, draft of proposed FEC Web rules, leaked to the RedState blog last March, regulated all but tiny, password-protected political sites, so bloggers should be worried. Without a general exemption, political blogs could easily find themselves in regulatory hell. Say it’s a presidential race, Condi Rice versus Hillary Clinton. You run a wildly opinionated and popular group blog—call it No to Hillary—that rails daily about the perils of a Clinton restoration and sometimes republishes Rice campaign material. Is your blog making “contributions” to Rice? Maybe. The FEC says that a “contribution” includes “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office” (my italics). If your anti-Hillary blog spends more than $1,000, you could also find it re-classified as a “political committee.” Then you’ve got countless legal requirements and funding limits to worry about.

In such a regulated Web-world, bloggers and operators of political sites would have to get press exemptions on a case-by-case basis. The results, election-law expert Bob Bauer explains, would be “unpredictable, highly sensitive to subtle differences in facts, and to the political environment of the moment.” Even when the outcome is happy, says Bauer, “a favorable result is still an act of noblesse oblige by a government well aware that if it turns down a request, the disappointed applicant is left with litigation as the only option.”

Sites would live in fear of Kafkaesque FEC enforcement actions, often triggered by political rivals’ complaints. “If the matter is based on a complaint,” notes former FEC counsel Allison Hayward, “the ‘respondent’ will receive a letter from the FEC with the complaint and will be asked to show why the FEC shouldn’t investigate.” An investigation involves “the usual tools of civil litigation—document requests, depositions, briefs, and the like.” The outcome can take months “or longer” to determine, says Hayward. “If a complaint is filed against you, there will be a flurry of activity while you respond, then perhaps silence—then another letter will arrive and you will be required to respond promptly, then maybe nothing again for months.” Most political bloggers aren’t paid “professional” reporters or commentators but just democratic citizens with day jobs who like to exercise their right to voice their opinions. If doing so without a lawyer puts them or their families at risk, many will simply stop blogging about politics—or never start.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: 1stamendment; blogs; bradleysmith; briancanderson; campaignfinance; censoringspeech; censorship; cfr; firstamendment; foxnews; freespeech; johnmccain; mccainfeingold; mcstainfeingall; politicians; talkradio; weblogs
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To: operation clinton cleanup

So much for the foolish argument that the blogs will bring down the MSM. As long as the Rats control idiots like John McCain, they will try to legislate the blogs into political irrelevance. And as long as they control the MSM, they will be motivated to do this.

41 posted on 01/12/2006 8:36:25 PM PST by California Patriot
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To: operation clinton cleanup

I have the same feeling you get when you've got a perfect shot on a deer but he walks behind a bush or runs away.

42 posted on 01/12/2006 8:36:48 PM PST by pcottraux (It's pronounced "P. Coe-troe.")
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To: FreeKeys
Campaign-finance reform now has the blogosphere in its crosshairs.


43 posted on 01/12/2006 8:37:00 PM PST by GOPJ (A. Cub reporters acting as stenographers for a manipulative top FBI agent? Q. What is Watergate?)
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To: pcottraux

LOL, Gotta strike while the irons hot I guess. That was the first time I ever had a shot on a troll. Hopefully I'll get some more.

44 posted on 01/12/2006 8:37:28 PM PST by proud_yank (Aspiring CEO of a multinational corporation)
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To: pcottraux

A dead troll is still a dead troll... even without all the glory, and the thrill of the kill!

45 posted on 01/12/2006 8:38:36 PM PST by operation clinton cleanup
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To: Fenris6; All
I reminded my congress-critter that this former Marine is willing to use to 2nd Ammendment to enforce the 1st. Censoring the public [blogs] is a shooting offfense.


46 posted on 01/12/2006 8:38:47 PM PST by FreeKeys (Can John McCain object to the Islamofascists' repression of FREE SPEECH and NOT be a hypocrite??)
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To: Dancing Alitos
>Image hosted by

I was fully armed for you, punk.

Nevertheless, whenever I have a troll run-in, I always post this link to an old vanity of mine.
47 posted on 01/12/2006 8:39:22 PM PST by pcottraux (It's pronounced "P. Coe-troe.")
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To: proud_yank

They never come when you want them to...only when it's inconvenient. You have to be on alert all the time.

Bustin' trolls is fun.

48 posted on 01/12/2006 8:40:30 PM PST by pcottraux (It's pronounced "P. Coe-troe.")
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To: operation clinton cleanup

Yeah, I suppose so.

49 posted on 01/12/2006 8:41:14 PM PST by pcottraux (It's pronounced "P. Coe-troe.")
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To: California Patriot
As long as the Rats control idiots like John McCain, they will try to legislate the blogs into political irrelevance.

MSM is wallowing in their tar pit

50 posted on 01/12/2006 8:42:10 PM PST by operation clinton cleanup
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To: FreeKeys; MNJohnnie

Thought you might want to ping your list of Rush listeners, if you haven't already seen this and done so, MNJohnnie. (Attempt to "Shush Rush")

51 posted on 01/12/2006 8:45:24 PM PST by LucyJo ("I have overcome the world." "Abide in Me." (John 16:33; 15:4)
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To: pcottraux
Bustin' trolls is fun.

Got a kick out of that link!
52 posted on 01/12/2006 8:48:28 PM PST by proud_yank (Aspiring CEO of a multinational corporation)
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To: FreeKeys
Senator McCain is a political opportunist of the worst kind.

All that there is to say about Senator McCain. And all we need to know about Senator McCain.

This man can never be President.

53 posted on 01/12/2006 8:49:34 PM PST by okie01 (The Mainstream Media: IGNORANCE ON PARADE)
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To: FreeKeys; Richard Poe
Not a word about the beast???

54 posted on 01/12/2006 8:49:36 PM PST by ForGod'sSake (ABCNNBCBS: An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly.)
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To: proud_yank

Trolls are like cockroaches: it's fun when you squash them, but for hours afterward, you have that paranoid icky feeling that another one's going to crawl out from somewhere.

The link is a vanity I wrote a long time ago. I meant for it to be something that never gets old...whenever you see a troll, provide that link for them and they will read a scathing ridicule of their mindset that hopefully will make them feel bad about themselves.

55 posted on 01/12/2006 8:52:20 PM PST by pcottraux (It's pronounced "P. Coe-troe.")
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To: operation clinton cleanup; proud_yank

Oh, and those graphics I posted...I drew those myself.

56 posted on 01/12/2006 8:53:18 PM PST by pcottraux (It's pronounced "P. Coe-troe.")
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To: WorkingClassFilth

Can you imagine being silenced after all of these years of voicing our opinion and exchanging ideas?

I think they're underestimating everyone if they think we'll go away.

Maybe the taste of internet influence was what we needed. Try to shut us down, and we'll take it to the streets and the polls.

57 posted on 01/12/2006 8:55:34 PM PST by Lijahsbubbe
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To: WorkingClassFilth
Minnesota Democrats Exposed

That guy is good!
58 posted on 01/12/2006 8:55:55 PM PST by Flora McDonald (got teufelhunden?)
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To: pcottraux

Nice work, keep it up!

59 posted on 01/12/2006 9:01:56 PM PST by operation clinton cleanup
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To: pcottraux

LOL, I'll have to save that link. THen again, if they hang out in DUmmy-land, their life is filled with self loathing and pity as it is! I forget the FReeper with the tagline "Everytime a toilet flushes, another liberal gets their brains". Hopefully their # will come up soon!

Time for a potty break!

60 posted on 01/12/2006 9:04:21 PM PST by proud_yank (Aspiring CEO of a multinational corporation)
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