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Published: Sunday, 11/6/2005

Blogger battle

The U.S. House of Representatives is on the right track with political blogs even if the train missed the station. Although a Republican bill that would have exempted political bloggers from campaign finance laws was defeated in the House, all is not lost.

While a majority of lawmakers voted for the measure 225-182, under special House rules the legislation required a two-thirds majority to pass. No doubt it will be reintroduced with more fruitful results. And eventually the Senate will take up a companion bill to the one Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling sponsored.

His Online Freedom of Speech Act deserves support. Its aim was to blunt a federal court ruling that the Federal Election Commission must include the Internet when drafting regulations governing political speech and campaign spending.

Initially the FEC had exempted the Internet from any provisions of a 2002 campaign finance law, limiting its areas of regulation to print, radio, and television.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act banned unlimited "soft money" contributions from individuals, small businesses, and corporations to political parties and set limits on how political supporters can pay for "public communications" that are coordinated with political campaigns.

A federal court ordered the FEC to extend those regulations to political activities on the Internet. Mr. Hensarling's bill would have rescued political bloggers from any provisions of the campaign law regardless of the bloggers financial connection to a campaign.

"The newest battlefield in the fight to protect the First Amendment is the Internet," he said. "The Internet is the new town square, and campaign finance regulations are not appropriate there."

Those who urged defeat of Mr. Hensarling's measure argued "it opens up new avenues for corruption to enter the political process," and unravels the intent of the BCRA.

Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, who championed the campaign finance law, said his fellow Republican's efforts go "far beyond exempting bloggers and allows federal candidates and political parties to again make use of soft money in federal campaigns."

But the fear of even peripherally regulating political speech on the Internet was great enough to warrant a welcomed backlash from bloggers of every political stripe.

Those who engage in spirited political discussions online should retain the freedom to do so without fear of regulations or risk of legal problems.

Clearly in a time when only about 60 percent of eligible Americans bother to vote, said Mr. Hensarling, any move by the federal government to stifle political activism by discouraging discourse must be rejected.

All aboard for round two.



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