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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 Goaway (82658) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:51AM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:54AM (#17722744)
    You can be standing up to your neck in crap, but you're still entitled to point out that someone else also smells.
  • Biased summary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slapout (93640) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:55AM (#17722752)
    "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 bockelboy (824282) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @08:59AM (#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.
  • by gumbi west (610122) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:06AM (#17722858) Journal
    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?
  • 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 on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:15AM (#17722940)
    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) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:15AM (#17722944)
    Yeah... whoever heard of a Slashdot reader not RTFA and jumping at whatever conclusions are presented in the blurb.... I must be new here.
  • astroturfing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Johnny5000 (451029) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:16AM (#17722952) Homepage Journal
    Kinda funny that the bill to try to prevent astroturfing was defeated largely by astroturfing.
  • Re:Biased summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zootm (850416) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:20AM (#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:right... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:22AM (#17723038)
    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 you have to do is write 10 words of your own bias-ridden shit every other story to keep it ticking over.
  • Re:Biased summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gb506 (738638) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:24AM (#17723064) Homepage
    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. It's much easier to simply stop trying to engage in advocacy.

    At the end of the day this was an attempt by government to limit the amount of communication they get from the unwashed masses. And to that effort I say, Fuck You Very Much, thank you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:26AM (#17723084)
    hormone driven women and wanking /.ers

    The sad part is not so much that it worked, but that the same crowd buys into every pop-sci, nuclear power is bad, we're destroying the planet, your immogrant nighbour is eatint the neighborhood pets, child abductions and school killings are rampat, terrorists are really nice prople who don't like me because they thik I'm not sensitive to their culture, cuttlefish are smarter than dolphins are smarter than dogs are more deserving of life than humans, Al Sharpton is NOT a racist who instigated the killing of 8 people in Harlem, and thimblefull of other crap that makes them feel good, important, superior, or might get them some nookie.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:40AM (#17723244)
    Yeah, I can understand how Gonzales was confused that where the Constitution said that "the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended..." meant that it could be suspended anytime he felt like it. But what I don't understand is how you think that where the Constitutions says "Congress shall make no law..." means that Congress can make any law on speech or that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people" means that all powers not given to Congress in the Constitution actually are given to Congress in the Constitution--namely regulating political speech by corporations. If you can tell me the sections of the Constitution that I might have missed that actually give Congress the power to regulate corporate political speech please feel free to list them. Otherwise it seems to me that they are reserved powers and can't be tampered with without a Constitutional amendment.

    But then again, I'm just an amateur. I'm not a lawyer like Gonzales who can read a sentence that says "No" and interpret it to mean "Yes." I guess I'm just not educated enough to understand what the Constitution really means. Maybe you have to look at it with a blacklight or read it upside down to understand it.
  • by mobby_6kl (668092) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:41AM (#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 tinkerghost (944862) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @09:50AM (#17723346) Homepage

    No, you don't have to register to have a personal opinion, or to voice it in public. The bill was worded very specifically to make sure that only if you were paid to have an opinion (and only if you reached more than 500ppl), would you then have to register - just like if you are paid to have an opinion & print something in a magazine, in a newspaper, etc - all of those paid for by notices on the bottom of the TV adds - that's what it was about.

  • by MarkusQ (450076) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:02AM (#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

  • Re:Wow. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:20AM (#17723740)
    It's a follow up to a previous article [slashdot.org]. It corrects that article's mistatement of the facts of the legislative provisions to prevent paid-lobbyists ($25,000 or more in one quarter of a year and a specific client) from using "blogging" as a loophole in the lobbyist reporting rules. The previous article pretended the legislation the Republicans all voted against would have hindered all bloggers. In fact, as this "correction [slashdot.org] states, the Republicans all voted to prevent proper reporting of paid-for lobbying activity online (when done on behalf of a specific client's interests). You may not think correcting the record is news. I do.
  • Bad summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kohath (38547) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:24AM (#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.

  • by gillbates (106458) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:35AM (#17723944) Homepage Journal

    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. Political advocacy for minority causes is generally not big business. Especially when said minority opinions are held by the poor or politically disenfranchised.

    Furthermore, this legislation would remove the ability of politically influential bloggers and organizations to remain anonymous. It would provide a nice "tool" for an oppressive regime to eliminate dissent. Our Constitutional Rights are important, even if the average blogger is not affected! It's a matter of principlel, one I would expect the /. crowd to understand, considering all of the harping they do about Constitutional liberties.

    Organizations like the FSF, EFF, and FIRE would probably be considerably affected by this legislation.

  • by DBett (241601) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:40AM (#17723988)
    Being /. it's claiming that it was a good provision because it was not really about targeting free speech, but rather about targeting a "tarnished" "backroom" "conservative." That being the goal, anything goes.
  • by Lars Clausen (1208) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:54AM (#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 falsified (638041) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:19AM (#17724360)
    Where's the censorship? Registering as a lobbyist sure as HELL doesn't restrict access or speech. All it does is label you as what you are. That's like saying states that ask for party identification when you register to vote are keeping you from voting.
  • by nasch (598556) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @12:25PM (#17725292)
    I have no love for political lobbyists, but the only way to have free speech is to have free speech; saying 'some kinds of speech are more equal than others' is absurd.
    Personally, I'm very glad we have different kinds of speech. I'm glad companies aren't allowed to lie to me in their ads or packaging, for example.
  • by alienmole (15522) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @12:39PM (#17725536)
    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" would have had to register as a lobbyist, and be subject to lobbying regulations, even if they have no direct contact with public officials. That's a heavy-handed way of dealing with the problem, and I think that it could even run afoul of the first amendment. So given the flawed nature of Sec 220, people on both sides had a point. In its proposed form, though, I'm glad the section was rejected.
  • by operagost (62405) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @12:49PM (#17725718) Homepage Journal
    Insightful? When your own integrity is compromised, that's the worst time to point the finger at anyone. Speck, eye, log... ring a bell?
  • Re:Bad summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by greppling (601175) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @04:46PM (#17729098)
    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 want to know the affiliation of the author. When I read a blog, I would like to know in case this blogger is getting paid 100,000$ to promote his opinion while trying to make it look like a private blog. This has nothing to do with preventing free speech, just with making free speech work.

  • by SQL Error (16383) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @05:56PM (#17730012)
    Baloney.
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    It doesn't say "unless it's been paid for". It says "Congress shall make no law".

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