Thursday, March 3, 2005

The coming crackdown(???) on blogging

Hum, this is very bizarre. Apparently the U.S. Federal Elections Committee is considering tough rules about making links to a campaign website. That it would become semi-illegal to make a link to a campaign website, no matter how much you want to promote that candidate.

The coming crackdown on blogging: (March 3, 2005, 4:00 AM PT By Declan McCullagh Staff Writer, CNET An interview with Bradley Smith of the FEC.

The theory Bradley Smith describes is this. A link to a website helps the popularity of that web site, and drives traffic to the web site. This much is very true, and I cover this in great detail at "Building and Promoting your own Web Site". What the FEC sees in addition is that for a political campaign, the visitors you send to the campaign web site may turn into donors to the campaign.

I find this very strange. This seems to be the crux:

If someone sets up a home page and links to their favorite politician, is that a contribution? This is a big deal, if someone has already contributed the legal maximum, or if they're at the disclosure threshold and additional expenditures have to be disclosed under federal law.

The FEC seems to be operating under the theory that the web site operator should have other peoples contributions should count against their campaign donation limits. Why?

But he offers this other point of view:

Corporations aren't allowed to donate to campaigns. Suppose a corporation devotes 20 minutes of a secretary's time and $30 in postage to sending out letters for an executive. As a result, the campaign raises $35,000. Do we value the violation on the amount of corporate resources actually spent, maybe $40, or the $35,000 actually raised? The commission has usually taken the view that we value it by the amount raised. It's still going to be difficult to value the link, but the value of the link will go up very quickly.

In other words, on the one hand it's strange to have others contributions counted against my donation limit. On the other hand it's very easy for to amplify contributions to ones preferred candidate through an action like Smith describes.

The internet-equivalent action to the evil-corporate story proposed is to flood the web with sites linking the desired site. A simple rule of thumb is that the more links there are pointing to a site, the more popular it is, and therefore the higher the search engines will rank that site.

Suppose someone wanted to tilt the search engines in favor of one candidate or another? Now, a campaign could trust that their supporters will naturally build web pages with links to the campaigns web site. That doesn't involve any evil shenanigans to try and tilt the election, and is an organic activity that should be encouraged. It's just like putting campaign signs in your front lawn.

What would be an evil shenanigan would be to robotically create a zillion sites each pointing to a campaign website. It's just a matter of writing some software to do so.

Senators McCain and Feingold have argued that we have to regulate the Internet, that we have to regulate e-mail. They sued us in court over this and they won.