Political Spam Comes with the Territory

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.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick 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.