Relentless Pursuit of Wisdom and Liberty

The weblog companion of, dedicated to pondering, "If Patrick Henry could see us now..."

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Comments to the FEC re: McCain-Feingold

Sent to regarding the possibility of the FEC to apply Judge Kollar-Kotelly's ruling that the provisions of McCain-Feingold that regulate political speech must be applied to personal weblogs and websites:
Dear Mr. Brad C. Deutsch, Assistant General Counsel:

Freedom of speech is one of the most important of our rights, and one most deserving of any protection we can afford it. With all of the present day's threats on the freedom of speech, one facet of it that is lost on most people is the freedom of the press. If we look back to the common parlance among the people of the 1700s, it's obvious that "the press" didn't mean " the set of people that includes newspaper reporters, authors, and journalists", but it instead carried the much wider meaning of "the tool used to publish written works". That's right, that clause of the First Amendment isn't about protecting the rights of a certain class of people to print anything they want - it's about protecting the rights of every single citizen to print anything they want. If a common citizen in 1791 had access to a printing press, he could author a pamphlet on any subject under the sun: politics, religion, the sciences, you name it, and he could print and disseminate it as he saw fit. He would be free from government regulation even if he was endorsing a challenger candidate or questioning the actions of an incumbent a week before an election.

Applying McCain-Feingold to weblogs would turn that centuries-old freedom on its head and eliminate a right that's been protected for over 200 years. Weblogs are nothing more than today's printing press for a digital citizenry - it's just cheaper and more ubiquitous. Sounds like democracy in action to me!

The intentions of McCain-Feingold may have been noble (cleaning up political corruption), but its execution has proved intensely difficult. With hindsight we can see that it was a bad idea to begin with, and its success in regulating political speech and monetary contributions is very much up for debate.

In our zeal to protect the political process from corruption, we must be ever vigilant to prevent incursions and depredations on the most precious rights the Framers of the Constitution guaranteed to us. Applying McCain-Feingold to something as commonly available as a weblog would ignore those rights and take us further still from the ideal the Framers had in mind for us.


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