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The Grassroots Blogging Provision's Real Purpose 227

Posted by Zonk
from the been-had dept.
ICantFindADecentNick writes "The Register carries a report on the defeat of Section 220 of the reform bill (the grassroots provision). In an all-too-familiar scene, bloggers, Slashdot readers and several news outlets were taken in by the hype surrounding a provision in the Senate ethics reform bill that would have required grassroots lobbying firms to register with the US Congress. To be fair, some commenters did see through the deception but the campaign, organized by Richard Viguerie, still succeeded. From the article: 'Viguerie, for those not familiar with the tarnished panoply of backroom players in American politics, pioneered the use of direct mail techniques for conservative causes, and has been called the "funding father" of the modern conservative movement. His ad agency currently handles direct mail campaigns for non-profits seeking to stimulate grassroots activity or raise funds from the general public.'" This is, of course, The Register. Still interesting to look back at the news from another point of view.
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The Grassroots Blogging Provision's Real Purpose

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  • by mingot (665080) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:50AM (#17722700)
    Only a bastion of fine news reporting like slashdot can say something like this without sounding pretentious.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gumbi west (610122)
      yeah, I don't understand. I guess he's saying that, "We went for it hook line and sinker and they did the equivalent of RTFA and now know what it really says, but I still think there not very good at reporting." Or is it supposed to mean something else?
    • by quokkapox (847798)
      This is, of course, Zonk

      This is, of course, quokkapox

      Wait, what? Who am I?

      Stack overflow, too many avatars.
    • It's easy for them to say in the UK at the Register? They obviously don't understand the angst of those who could lose their 6-figure jobs astroturfing. The irony could be that influential Senators have people supporting them...who supported this campaign in order to help lobby for the Senators who nixed the provision...
  • by Goaway (82658) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:51AM (#17722708) Homepage
    "Look back"?

    People were screaming about the whole thing being a complete fabrication each time it was posted on Slashdot. You could have just, you know, read the comments?
    • by bockelboy (824282) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:59AM (#17722802)
      I was screaming that it was a fabrication last time it was on Slashdot, but that didn't stop twice as many people from posting that I was completely wrong.

      It only takes a bit of blood to turn it into a free-speech orgy, even if the law was well-within the limits of free speech as the Supreme Court has put into place.

      Just for reference, political statements (i.e., burning the flag, ranting on your blog) are heavily shielded by the First Amendment. Political statements paid for by a campaign to get someone elected are NOT heavily shielded by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has upheld that fact again and again.
      • Just for reference, political statements (i.e., burning the flag, ranting on your blog) are heavily shielded by the First Amendment. Political statements paid for by a campaign to get someone elected are NOT heavily shielded by the First Amendment.

        Why?
    • by RyoShin (610051)
      But that would require Slashdot editors to read their own website, the articles that are submitted, or even edit the articles submitted.

      It's so much easier to just hit "post to main page in X minutes" and then go back to reading Something Awful.
  • right... (Score:5, Informative)

    by moerty (1030150) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:54AM (#17722736)
    This is, of course, The Register. Still interesting to look back at the news from another point of view. submitter makes it seem almost wistful that he and a bunch of other tards were taken in hook line and sinker when all they had to do was read and see what was really going on. it also makes me wonder how many posters here are paid shills of a misinformation campaign although as they say, "don't attribute to malice what is perfectably explainable by stupidity."
    • next week we'll be reading a story about how the story about how the other story was crap was crap :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "it also makes me wonder how many posters here are paid shills of a misinformation campaign"

      Well, those are exactly the people this bill would have regulated, so it seems pretty likely that they do exist (here and on most large forums).

      A lot of Americans have been living in a fantasy world lately, where the rich and powerful are there to do good and benevolently oversee us plebes. If they open their eyes, though, they'll see commercial databanks whose sole purpose is to spy on us and sell whatever is disco
    • submitter makes it seem almost wistful that he and a bunch of other tards were taken in hook line and sinker when all they had to do was read and see what was really going on.

      'tards'?

      Yes, obviously they lack your intelligence and discernment ...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Macthorpe (960048)
        To be fair, he might have the English skills of a squashed beetle but he does have a point...
      • by nasch (598556)
        'tards'? Yes, obviously they lack your intelligence and discernment ...
        Right, clearly nobody with intelligence or discernment would ever use... slang. Yeah.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Just to qualify, if you managed to trawl through that mangled shitfest that the parent calls the English language, he actually makes a good point.

      Slashdot is hardly in a position to put on a haughty tone and shout "Oh, well, this is The Register", when their own reporting is based on whatever rabid drivelling the latest basement-bound, freedom-clinging, frothing, mouth-breathing Linux zealot submits to the editors. They're too stupid to fucking notice anyway. It's nice and easy to run a news site when all y
    • Re:right... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ZachPruckowski (918562) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:50AM (#17723334)
      Yes. I was actually in a position in which I was quoting and citing large sections of the bill, only to have people dispute that that was what the bill said, despite my source being the Library of Congress. Some stupid astroturfer's press release was given as large, if not larger, a sway as THE ACTUAL BILL.
      • I saw that as well; one person quoted the actual text of the bill, only to have respondent quote another blog interpretation at him. I tried similar postings of actual bill text with explanation, but the groupthink washed it away.
        • Posting bill text might not have been as useful as you think, unless it went along with a pretty detailed analysis, because there was a lot of interaction between different sections.

          As for groupthink, that was happening on both sides, and still is (except now the default direction of the groupthink is reversed). Section 220 had a problem in it, which The Register article mentions. That problem is exactly what was bugging me about the bill: that anyone paid enough to do "stimulation of grassroots lobbying"
  • Biased summary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slapout (93640)
    "pioneered the use of direct mail techniques for conservative causes"

    So, you're saying that liberal causes haven't figured out how to use the mail box yet?
    • by PhxBlue (562201)
      Judging by the amount of Republican junk I had in my mailbox I had last fall, I would say no. And thank the gods they haven't.
    • Re:Biased summary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zootm (850416) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:20AM (#17723008)

      "Pioneered" would generally tend to mean "they started it". It doesn't say anything about their opposition not doing the same thing (in fact, I think it implies that they followed?).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gb506 (738638)
      So, you're saying that liberal causes haven't figured out how to use the mail box yet?

      Excellent observation. The provision as it was written would have barred companies from encouraging or providing mechanisms for their customers to contact legislators regarding issues of import - unless, of course, said company "registered" with the government and reported all activities and expenditures. And that is a massive free speech problem. Nobody wants to construct a reporting mechanism, legislators know that.

  • Shouldn't we get an apology from the /. "editors", since they swallowed Vigurie's spin hook line and sinker -- not once, but twice?

    (Of course, since they apparently don't read the comments, where many people pointed out the truth on this issue, I expect the answer is probably no.)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Since the provision was designed to silence some conservative grassroots guy, it must be okay. Surely there wouldn't be any unintended consequences.
  • Yeah... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fitten (521191)
    Yeah... whoever heard of a Slashdot reader not RTFA and jumping at whatever conclusions are presented in the blurb.... I must be new here.
    • Look you toffy-nosed, malodorous pervert, I got as far as "whoever heard of a Slashdot reader" and I just had to respond. Now admittedly, I have no idea what the rest of your post may or may not say, but I've never let facts, or lack thereof, stand in my way before.

      Plenty of people have heard of a slashdot reader, only a moron would say otherwise.

      Sheesh, you people...
  • astroturfing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Johnny5000 (451029) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:16AM (#17722952) Homepage Journal
    Kinda funny that the bill to try to prevent astroturfing was defeated largely by astroturfing.
    • by MarkusQ (450076) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:02AM (#17723492) Journal

      It might be interesting to look back at those threads and see if we could figure out who the astroturfers are.

      I've also thought, more ambitiously, that it might be interesting to see if there were discernible patterns to postings by astroturfers, or to threads on which this was happening. I'm not sure what exactly to look for (especially since we don't have access to the IP addresses), but their still might be some pattern of boiler plate text, or things block copied from other sites, or...

      Ideas?

      --MarkusQ

      • by plopez (54068)
        There might be an AI or pattern recognition thesis in there somewhere.
      • by alienmole (15522)
        It might be interesting to look back at those threads and see if we could figure out who the astroturfers are.

        Seems to me you might have a problem distinguishing them from people who have a legitimate problem with the amendment. The Register article described the issue accurately: section 220 was screwed up. I would have supported a suitably fixed Sec 220, but as written I just don't agree with it, and don't think it should have passed in that form.

        • Seems to me you might have a problem distinguishing them from people who have a legitimate problem with the amendment.

          That is an interesting point. I assume you are talking about people like yourself, who persist in raising essentially the same objections even after it has been repeatedly pointed out [slashdot.org] (and, in some cases, conceded [slashdot.org]) that they are misrepresenting the issue at hand? I must admit that I am puzzled about this myself. From your posts on other topics you don't seem like an astroturfer, but y

          • by alienmole (15522)
            I'm not misrepresenting the issue. My objection is more or less the exact same one described by the Register article as a problem with the legislation that needed to be fixed. In one of the posts you point to, I wasn't sure at the time, based on conflicting information that I'd read, whether the registration requirement only applied to persons who already qualified to register as lobbyists, which would have made the whole thing more or less moot. It turns out that wasn't the case. I found this out indep
    • After all, it is impossible for someone to be against the bill if they knew what it was really about, right?????

      I know what the bill was about, am I am a shill / mouthpiece for nobody but myself, and YET, I know better than to regulate speech on ANY grounds, because it IS a slippery slope, or at least that is what the left has always claimed when censorship was from the right.

      Or is this the Hypocrisy Zone?
      • After all, it is impossible for someone to be against the bill if they knew what it was really about, right?????

        If someone wants to be against (or for) the bill because they know what it's really about, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that.

        However, a lot of the initial opposition to the bill was based on (perhaps deliberate) misrepresentation of facts due to astroturfing. I've got a problem with that- let the bill be judged by its own merits, good and bad.
        • "misrepresentation of facts due to astroturfing."

          Your opinion. I happen to the "misrepresentation" you see, because I can see past the actual language and into the left-wing courts (9th Circuit) and see that they can take JUST ABOUT ANY LAW, and twist it beyond its intents.

          So the law, as it is intended, is rarely kept intact. Further, I can see people trying to close "loopholes" effectively creating a subclass of people not able to actually speak freely because they happen to have money. As much as some don
  • So, in list form: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wilson_6500 (896824) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:24AM (#17723070)
    1) Senate proposes bill. Bill contains provisions that businesses will probably not like, but Senate feels pressure to do so from the public (?).

    2) Influential conservative stirs up "public opinion" against bill's provisions.

    3) Bill's provision is struck. Senate cites "will of the people" and shrugs. Senate gets to say "we tried, you didn't want it." Businesses keep astroturing. Everyone wins except the public who, as always, loses.

    Just how often are the provisions of bills being discussed in Congress truly struck out because the people got wind of what was going on and spoke out--without some mouthpiece or rein-holding group to speak "for" us, or some vague poll number or other inaccurate metric telling the Congressfolks what we think, or some massive letter-writing campaign by just 2000 very angry people?
    • by dsanfte (443781)
      Heh, you want Congress to govern based on what the people think? There are some real mouth-breathers around here, I'd hate to see what a country run by those would look like. Look, a republican government run in the manner you suggest would be mob rule by proxy.

      The people need to be listened to less, not more. Abortion, gay marriage, all those rights issues need to be moved to the state level and out of federal politics forever, but 'people' continue getting into the process and trying to impose their will
      • The people need to be listened to less, not more. Abortion, gay marriage, all those rights issues need to be moved to the state level and out of federal politics forever,

        So people magically become smarter when dealing with state politics, and they're morons when it comes to federal politics?

        Based on the rest of your post, I would think you'd be in favor of more power consolidated in the national government- say in the hands of a king. Then we wouldn't have to deal with the opinions of the "mouth breathers"
        • "So people magically become smarter when dealing with state politics, and they're morons when it comes to federal politics?"

          No, people have no real representation at the federal level, and more and closer representation at the state and local levels.

          That, and our political structure has been screwed up by those who think themselves smarter than everyone else. While I know I am more intelligent than most people I don't go running around telling people that they are "Morons" because they happen to be less int
          • No, people have no real representation at the federal level, and more and closer representation at the state and local levels.

            I'm familiar with that argument and I actually lean towards it in general.

            Usually the reasoning behind giving the states more power is to put more power in the hands of the people, since they have closer representation at the state and local level, as you said.

            My main issue was with the OP saying in one sentence that people are idiots and should have less political power, and then im
            • But you see, my point is that in fact "idiots" do have a right to their viewpoint, and often see things in a way that "smarter" people cannot. I only wish that idiots had less political power only because there seems to be more of them. ;)

      • Hell, I think that we need to go back to having the state legislatures elect Senators. Maybe even start letting them pick the President, as that might get us closer to how the Electoral College was supposed to work, and the present state of campaigning to 300 million people is just ridiculous.

        Most of our important voting should be done as close to home as possible. There's something to be said for seeing your highest directly-elected representative at the local grocery store--or for being able to campaign
  • by mobby_6kl (668092) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:41AM (#17723264)
    It's still retarded. From TFA:
    Because of clumsy wording that would have included an employer in the definition of a "client," the requirement would have applied to anyone who, in the service of their employer, engaged in the stimulation of grassroots lobbying designed to influence more than 500 people, as long as the organization spent over $25,000 per quarter on the activity. Thus, anyone who was paid $25,000 per quarter to maintain a weblog with a readership of more than 500 people would have to register with Congress under section 220 if they spent all of their time encouraging the general public to contact an executive or legislative official over a matter of public policy.


    Ignoring the issue with the readership, what would the registration accomplish anyway? You can already see who contributes to the politicans' campaigns, and that doesn't seem to do change anything.
    • by MarkusQ (450076)

      Ignoring the issue with the readership, what would the registration accomplish anyway? You can already see who contributes to the politicans' campaigns, and that doesn't seem to do change anything.

      With registration, when Exxon hires a PR firm to create "Dr. Brown's Global Warming Truth Blog" and spread some manure about it being caused by cows, they would have to fess up about the fact that it was a work done for hire. Without registration, there's no way to know that "Dr. Brown" the world famous clima

      • by 0123456 (636235)
        And? Science is science, it doesn't matter who pays for it, what matters is _are they right_?

        Free speech is either absolute or non-existent; you can't put restrictions on who can say what and then claim you have free speech.
        • by MarkusQ (450076)

          *sigh*

          And? Science is science, it doesn't matter who pays for it, what matters is _are they right_?

          But a bunch of writers putting words in the mouth of a fictional "scientist" is not science.

          Free speech is either absolute or non-existent; you can't put restrictions on who can say what and then claim you have free speech.

          And a strawman is a strawman no matter how many times you raise it. There was nothing about free speech in the bill. No speech acts were restricted, in any way shape or form.

      • by alienmole (15522)
        One problem with section 220, though, is that it would have required the PR firm in your example to register as a lobbyist if they met the income threshold, even though they have no direct contact with public officials. I don't agree with that -- it basically pulls people who do work for hire for a lobbyist into the lobbyist regulation mechanism as though they were lobbyists themselves. There are better, lower overhead ways to handle something like that.

        Frankly, I'm glad the provision was rejected, just o
        • One problem with section 220, though, is that it would have required the PR firm in your example to register as a lobbyist if they met the income threshold, even though they have no direct contact with public officials.

          That's the whole point. If Alice in Acapulco asks Bob to drop a package off at Carol's house in Chicago, and unbeknownst to Bob the package is full of drugs, isn't Alice responsible even though she had no "direct contact" with the drugs? If Dave hires Eddie to kill Frank, is Dave in the

          • by alienmole (15522)

            The problem is you're tarring all people in that situation with the same brush. To follow your example, Bob and everyone else who delivers packages would have to register his package delivery with the DEA, or something, because they might contain drugs.

            Remember my Al Gore example? If you have someone who's blogging on a subject that they feel strongly about, and some lobbyists who supports their position decides they want to support them, as soon as the money involved adds up to enough, the moral blog

            • The problem is you're tarring all people in that situation with the same brush. To follow your example, Bob and everyone else who delivers packages would have to register his package delivery with the DEA, or something, because they might contain drugs.

              Not at all. Bob and the UPS play the roll of the astroturf "blog"'s readers who are duped into contacting their legislators by the astroturfer's lies (here played by Alice the drug smuggler). There is no restriction at all on them.

              Remember my Al Gore

              • by alienmole (15522)

                Unless they are charging money specifically for pushing that particular agenda, it's a non-issue. But if they are, then yes, they are lobbying.

                No, they're not. Lobbying is a regulated activity that involves dealing with public officials.

                Having paid spokespeople pretend to be independent isn't free speech, it's fraud.

                Actually, I don't think it rises to the legal definition of fraud, but I agree with your sentiment. As I said before, I'd be perfectly in favor of a law which required anyone receivi

  • Just because Richard Viguerie wants it out for selfish reasons doesn't mean the law itself is a good idea. Astroturfing is annoying, but there's a lot more to lose than gain by regulating political speech like this.
  • Bad summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kohath (38547) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:24AM (#17723802)
    The bill would have infringed the right of free speech. It's actually quite clear.

    Astroturf campaigns are free speech. Fining groups engaged in astroturf campaigns is an infringement on free speech. Requiring speakers to "register" in order to be allowed to speak is not free speech.

    All this BS justification is simply "we're in favor of free-speech only when we agree with the motives, methods, or message of the speaker". Agreeable speech doesn't need to be protected from the people who agree with it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by branonm (995551)
      Astroturf campaigns are not free speech. They are more akin to advertising.

      If you are PAID to express an opinion then how can the speech be free?
      • by Slithe (894946)
        You are confusing gratis with libre. Free Speech is Free as in Freedom not as in Cost.
    • by nagora (177841) *
      Astroturf campaigns are free speech.

      They are not; don't be so stupid. Free speech is the right to express your opinion; expressing someone else's opinion as if it were your own is being a shill and is already illegal in many contexts, such as in a courtroom.

      TWW

      • by ScentCone (795499)
        Free speech is the right to express your opinion; expressing someone else's opinion as if it were your own is being a shill and is already illegal in many contexts, such as in a courtroom

        But you're assuming that you know what's in the blogger's mind. What if I personally DO have the opinion that I'm backing, and I've proven to be very effective at representing that opinion. And further, that I've convinced a good number of like-minded people that, since I'm good at it, I could be MORE good at it if I did
        • by nasch (598556)

          Getting donations that add up to more than X dollars, and being financially supported while you go about using your time to express your own opinion in a public context - there's nothing ethically wrong with that, and should be nothing legally wrong with that.

          There's nothing wrong with paying to run commercials, either, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be any limits. Ford shouldn't be allowed to run ads for Chevy cars that make them look bad, for example. This provision was just trying to help clarif

          • Ford shouldn't be allowed to run ads for Chevy cars that make them look bad, for example.

            Why not?

            • by nasch (598556)

              Ford shouldn't be allowed to run ads for Chevy cars that make them look bad, for example. Why not?

              Because society is better served by requiring companies to be truthful in their advertising. For example, not making false claims, and not pretending the message comes from company X when it's really from company Y. It's more efficient to have the FTC regulating this for us, than to have every citizen either acting on bad information or doing their own research on the ads they're considering.

              • Ford shouldn't be allowed to run ads for Chevy cars that make them look bad, for example.

                Why not?

                Because society is better served by requiring companies to be truthful in their advertising. For example, not making false claims, and not pretending the message comes from company X when it's really from company Y.

                You didn't answer the question. Why shouldn't Ford be allowed to run ads for Chevy cars that make them look bad? There is no implication here that the ads were falsified or made to appear

                • by nasch (598556)
                  There is no implication here that the ads were falsified or made to appear as though they'd come from Chevy instead of Ford. Why can't Ford run a completely truthful ad in its own name that happens to make Chevy look bad?
                  Ah, I guess I didn't explain that well. I meant Ford should not be able to run ads that appear to be coming from Chevy.
        • by nagora (177841)
          Getting donations that add up to more than X dollars, and being financially supported while you go about using your time to express your own opinion in a public context - there's nothing ethically wrong with that, and should be nothing legally wrong with that.

          That's true, if they are your opinions. But once you get paid to do it then I think you should have to tell people that you are being paid, just so they can decide for themselves if they believe that they really are your opinions. One way to make sur

    • by Damek (515688)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shouting_fire_in_a_c r owded_theater [wikipedia.org]

      Brandenburg v. Ohio, which ruled that speech could only be banned when it was directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action (e.g. a riot), the test which remains until this day.

      I think under this interpretation of law, astroturfing should be banned. It is most often utilized to protect lawless action (e.g. corporate malfeasances). And to incite the election of Republicans, which should also be illegal.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by greppling (601175)
      What a non-sense. Under the bill, you would still be completely free to voice your opinion. Except that you would have to admit publically IF you are getting paid to promote this opinion. You could still use your free speech, except that your readers would know that you are getting paid for it, and it would be in their judgment whether they continue to trust you.

      When I read a newspaper, I want to know who is running it. When I see an election ad, I want to know who is paying for it. When I read an op-ed, I
  • It is my honest opinion that this was bad legislation. Yes, I know most blogger wouldn't be affected, but organizations like the EFF would have been.

    For a non-profit organization, even small expenses can make or break the efforts of the organization. There are a lot of non-profit organizations that have only a handfull of staff, yet influence thousands or millions of people. Groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood - which are generally well funded - are the exception, rather than the rule. Polit

    • by Lars Clausen (1208) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:54AM (#17724122)
      So the FSF and EFF pay their bloggers $100000 or more a year? I know a guy in the EFF who'd feel rather cheated if that were the case.

      -Lars
      • by Slithe (894946)
        It was $25,000 per quarter. That does not mean the bloggers are receiving money for the whole year.
      • by gillbates (106458)
        No, they only have to spend 100,000 a year combined. Which includes all costs of the campaign, including postage, bandwidth, administration and equipment costs, etc... Think about it - buying a $100,000 server and depreciating it over 2 years would get you halfway toward the reporting requirements.
  • I smell a rat (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mdsolar (1045926)
    I don't have a completely fixed opinion on the astoturfing bill except that is was vauge and thus dangerous, but apparently the IRS is getting into the same game so there is more going on I think: http://slashdot.org/~Ungrounded+Lightning/journal/ [slashdot.org].

    I think you need to be logged in to see this link.
  • was trying to accomplish.

    I was opposed to this legislation for the same reason I was opposed to McCain-Feingold - it's a restriction on freedom of speech.

    I don't care if a campaign is astroturf or if a group wants to get together and pay for an advertisment for a candidate.

    Sure SCOTUS disagrees with me on McC-F, but I still feel that way.

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