Sunday, January 21, 2007

Misinformation about blogger registration

The blogosphere was in an uproar about Section 220 of Senate Bill 1, on the basis of a press release from astroturf organization GrassRootsFreedom, run by conservative political activist Richard A. Viguerie. This press release claimed that this section of the "Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007" would require all bloggers with audiences of 500 or more people to register with the government.

Slashdot promoted the press release with its typical inaccuracy, with very few commenters actually bothering to read what Section 220 actually said. In fact, the bill only required registration for bloggers with audiences of 500 or more people who are paid. And not just paid, but paid at least $25,000 per quarter. And not just paid at least $25,000 per quarter, but paid at least $25,000 per quarter by a client to promote lobbying on a political issue.

Specifically, Section 220 required "paid grassroots lobbying firms" to register and file reports, and defined those as a person or entity that "is retained by 1 or more clients to engage in paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying on behalf of such clients; and receives income of, or spends or agrees to spend, an aggregate of $25,000 or more for such efforts in any quarterly period."

The Captain's Quarters blog was one of those that correctly identified the misinformation from Viguerie. Viguerie has been a major player in U.S. politics for a long time, and is described as follows in my "Fundamentalism is Nonsense" pamphlet (6th edition, 1986):
Richard A. Viguerie, of the Richard A. Viguerie Company of Falls Church, Virginia, runs one of the largest direct mail fundraising companies in the country. He has raised money for such organizations and individuals as the Panama Canal Truth Squard, Gun Owners of America, the American Security Council, Citizens for Decency Through Law, Terry Dolan's National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), the Conservative Caucus, and the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, Senators Jesse Helms (NC), Jim McClure (ID), Orrin Hatch (UT), William Armstrong (CO), John Warner (VA), and Representatives Philip Crane (IL), Mickey Edwards (OK), Larry McDonald (GA), and Phil Gramm (TX). Viguerie also publishes the magazine Conservative Digest [Conway 82, pp. 83-84, 87].
The reference is to Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman's 1982 book, Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America's Freedoms in Religion, Politics, and Our Private Lives (Doubleday).

Viguerie's efforts were successful, and Section 220 was removed from S. 1 by Senate Amendment 20.

4 comments:

Kimber said...

Jim,

Good afternoon. It was actually not misinformation provided in Mr. Viguerie's release and the subsequent concerns regarding S.1 220. Please refer to www.grassrootsfreedom.com at the following link to see a retort of Professor Bainbridge by Mark Fitzgibbons, Esq. proving that the legislation would have applied to bloggers and the dangers of the bill. This was and is not a left/right issue.

http://www.grassrootsfreedom.com/gw3/articles-news/articles.php?action=view&CMSArticleID=591&CMSCategoryID=23

Regards,

Kimber

Jim Lippard said...

Kimber:

Thanks, but I think Fitzgibbons' analysis is questionable for the reasons Stephen Bainbridge has pointed out.

In any case, the language is currently not in the bill, and if it comes back I agree that we should be vigilant to make sure that it doesn't have the consequences Fitzgibbons claims, whether intended or unintended.

Anonymous said...

The press release did not say bloggers with 500 readers would need to report.
Read the press release, not what was reported about it. Bloggers would have been subject to the lobbying registration and its criminal penalty provisions.
My legal analysis of the bill is correct. I agree that the "intent" was probably not to regulate bloggers, but the language of the bill would have allowed them to. I work with lots of "disclosure" laws. Those who later enforce those laws don't care about the "intent" of some legislative staffer who wrote the bill, but use those laws to target unpopular speakers. Check with ACLU's opposition to the bill. Mark Fitzgibbons

Jim Lippard said...

Mark:

I read the press release, the bill, Bainbridge's critique, your response, and Bainbridge's response to you. I think Bainbridge had the better case, though of course I worry about government actions beyond what the law says or intends, especially since we have a current government that doesn't even seem to care what the law says.

Do you have a further response to Bainbridge? Did you read the other comments here before you just posted?