Political Spam Comes with the Territory

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-06-12 Print this article Print

Opinion: A legal loophole called "the First Amendment" permits unrestricted political speech on the Internet and the possibility of spam. Perhaps we should follow the model of countries like North Korea and Iran, which don't have this p

    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.
This is one of my favorite laws, and I take it very seriously. Our history with it, of course, is imperfect. If you think the government is restricting free speech today you should look back into history a bit. Consider the role of the Committee on Public Information, which administered strict but "voluntary" press censorship during World War I.
Ive always thought that political speech is good and that more is better, but ever since we started, in the post-Watergate era, to restrict it, many assume that political speech is somehow a corrupt thing, especially if money is spent in order to engage in it.
Now we hear that a "loophole" in electoral law will likely lead to a deluge of political spam this coming election season, according to the Washington Post, which mostly cites political consultants, including Advocacy Inc., a K Street political consulting firm specializing in "developing Internet and e-mail broadcast solutions for candidate and issue advocacy campaigns and elected officials." Also cited was Max Fose of Integrated Web Strategy which works with clients to build e-mail lists and campaigns to use them. The "loophole" arises out of the fact that the FEC voted unanimously in March to exempt political communication on the Internet, including blogs, e-mail and Web sites, from regulation. This exemption extends not just to spending limits, but to reporting as well. In other words, you can spend millions on Internet campaigning and not even have to report what youre spending and on whom. Thank goodness for John McCain, co-author of the the McCain-Feingold Bill that did away with "soft money" (and a client of Integrated Web Strategy, according to IWS Web site). In fact, the FEC rules arent entirely laissez-faire, only effectively so. For instance, politically focused e-mails sent to fewer than 500 addresses at a time are not subject to reporting requirements. Wow, I wonder how theyll get around that one. Bloggers who dont take paid political ads are also not covered. Click here to read about the FEC decision in March regarding the regulation of political advertising on the Internet. The political consultants are saying that the absence of regulation will lead candidates (and, I assume, advocacy organizations with dollars to spend) to blow out advertising at full speed on the Internet, and especially through e-mail. The article doesnt address whether such campaigns are subject to other laws, such as CAN-SPAM, but I would assume that they are. Whether this means that violations would be enforced or that the consultants are concerned with such violations is another matter. Next page: Negative speech is still speech.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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