In 2002, the Federal Election Commission voted 4-2 to exempt the Internet from the “Campaign Finance Reform Act” – better known as the “McCain-Feingold law.” In 2004, a federal judge overturned that FEC exemption, and with it dug up a shot at a source of revenue the government’s been wringing their hands over since Al Gore invented it– the Internet. Outcry from bloggers, free-speech advocates and some politicians has slowed the federal steamroller, but it’s still in gear with the motor running.
Why has this big source of potential revenue for the government been just sitting there untapped? With the exception of the military, the government is traditionally a couple of decades behind the technological curve. It isn’t that the government doesn’t want to catch up, it’s that they can’t. The federal government is trying to win a potato sack race with thousands of people in the same bag. The attractive feature of monstrous bureaucracy has always been that it corners like an aircraft carrier in dry-dock, making it fairly easy for the fleet-afoot masses to out maneuver.
The government, like big media (cough – “CBS”), has been caught off guard by the power of bloggers and has spent the last few years staring at them in confused amazement with their heads cocked to the side like cocker spaniels listening to a Stephen Hawking lecture. As their understanding is slowly developing, the government is in the process of inventing “cyber hands” to grab a chunk of this cyber power.
As debate moves forward over how to go about sifting through the Internet for money and control under the guise of “compliance” with McCain-Feingold, the government will conveniently use this opportunity to tightly monitor a new breed of reporter – mouse-wielding muckrakers who can threaten the very existence of politicians and mainstream media: The blogger.
Some bloggers, like revolutionary era pamphleteers gone high-tech, are the 21st century’s answer to Thomas Paine – A Paine-in-the-rump to many in government, but quite welcome when they’re helping politicians raise money or promote their agenda. Because of this, regulation will proceed slowly and carefully, so as to not anger an ally while still sticking Uncle Sam’s fingers in the pie. The enforcers of McCain-Feingold will be charged with implementing the Internet version of CFR so it acts as the Grecian Formula of cyberspace – “The change was so gradual, nobody noticed.”
For those in government who are gung-ho to regulate the Internet, the fall of Dan Rather outlines the necessity to put Internet regulation on the fast track. Big media and federal bureaucracy tend to have more in common than not – both can suffer oxygen deficiency from residing in ivory towers that are too high, and neither understood the power of bloggers until Dan Rather got busted by them. When some politicians look at Rather, they think, “There but for the grace of blog …”
A quick look at even the seemingly noblest of intentions of McCain-Feingold and the failings are obvious. Did making federal candidates say “I approve this message” bring about a huge decline in negative ads? The thought behind that was, if a candidate had to say “I approve” visibly and audibly, the candidate wouldn’t allow negative or false material in an ad they were so closely associated with. How well that’s working.
The lesson learned from the “I approve this message” idea is that it’s not possible to shame a politician whose goals create a tunnel vision incapable of glimpsing peripheral ridicule. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the nature of the profession. Forcing candidates to visibly and audibly “approve” a message to put an end to negative ads is like installing video surveillance cameras in your living room and assuming it will intimidate your dog enough to make him stop licking himself.
CFR helped take the money out of the process, too. The $600 million-plus presidential race proved that. The problem with McCain-Feingold is that it contains more loopholes than the wall between a high school girls’ locker room and the wood shop.
If the noblest of McCain-Feingold intentions have failed, how bad will it get when various political agendas are taken into account during the interpretation of CFR for purposes of regulating the Internet? McCain-Feingold is a miserable failure – the worst idea to come out of Washington, D.C., since, well, the one before it – and needs to be repealed, not extended.
Oh, I almost forgot. Just in case McCain-Feingold laws apply to political commentators with blogs by the time this is published, I can only close by saying, “I’m Doug Powers, and I approve his message.”