Bipartisanship vs. Free Speech

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Not too long ago, I said the following:

The problem [caused by Congress being so busy] is partly circumvented by the "many eyes" made available via the Internet to watch the Democrats -- provided they don't blind these eyes by restricting our ability to use the Internet or mute our voices by restricting freedom of speech.

And provided that some of us do think in terms of principles. The Democrats can't do anything about this last, so they will work on the first two "problems".
As it turns out, they have not merely hit the ground running in their efforts to quash freedom of speech, they are being very clever about it.

Not only that, the Democrats are poised to capitalize big time on recent Republican stupidity. Recall that recent 98-0 vote in the Senate to require lawmakers to disclose earmarks tacked onto spending bills? The GOP set the stage for that by not making a principled stand for small government, taking its place at the public trough instead. So the party that spent the bulk of the twentieth century transforming the Land of Opportunity into a massive welfare state now gets to pose as the party of small government.

But Republican stupidity didn't end with their majority in Congress. With the Democrats having set themselves up as morally superior, they are now already about to pose as martyrs even as they begin driving a stake into the Internet as a tool for political activism. A lobbying "reform" bill currently under consideration includes something of a non-financial "earmark": a proposal to make any blogger with more than 500 readers a day to register as a lobbyist!
According to, under Section 220 of S. 1, the lobbying reform bill currently before the Senate, bloggers who have more than 500 readers will have to register and report quarterly to Congress just like lobbiests or go to jail.
The amazing thing about this provision is that it was given its teeth by a Republican -- who also later co-sponsored another proposal to remove the whole section! Here is a more detailed account:
"Section 220 of S. 1, the lobbying reform bill currently before the Senate, would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report quarterly to Congress the same as the big K Street lobbyists. Section 220 would amend existing lobbying reporting law by creating the most expansive intrusion on First Amendment rights ever. For the first time in history, critics of Congress will need to register and report with Congress itself.

"The bill would require reporting of 'paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying,' but defines 'paid' merely as communications to 500 or more members of the public, with no other qualifiers.

"On January 9, the Senate passed Amendment 7 to S. 1, to create criminal penalties, including up to one year in jail, if someone 'knowingly and willingly fails to file or report.'

"That amendment was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA). Senator Vitter, however, is now a co-sponsor of Amendment 20 by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) to remove Section 220 from the bill. Unless Amendment 20 succeeds, the Senate will have criminalized the exercise of First Amendment rights. We'd be living under totalitarianism, not democracy. [bold added]
I am not sure what Senator Vitter was thinking when he introduced both this amendment and its effective repeal, but his actions play right into the hands of the Democrats, who know how to spin the bill's overall disfavor among the Republicans:
The Democratic-led Senate failed to end a Republican procedural roadblock that has stalled a bipartisan bill to revamp the Senate's ethics and lobbying rules.

On a 51-46 vote, the Senate fell 14 short of the 65 votes needed to end more than a week of debate and move toward a vote on passage of the sweeping measure.


A Reid spokesman said if Republicans again prevail in preventing a vote on passage, they will have to spend the next two years "defending why they voted against ethics reform." [bold added]
The "procedural roadblock" mentioned here is, I think, based on this report, a filibuster.
As of this evening, January 17, the Senate debate on the entire lobbying reform bill indicates "cloture" on the bill may be delayed or not invoked. Therefore, the Left-Right press conference originally scheduled for 1 p.m., Thursday, January 18 is postponed indefinitely.

Check out our News section to read the letter from the ACLU supporting the Bennett Amendment to strip the grassroots provisions from S. 1. [link added]
Notice that the Reuters story has nothing to say about this threat to freedom of speech and that it appears that the Democrats are more than ready to ram this bill down our throats before anyone notices its Republican-added grave implications -- and using the moral cudgel of "vot[ing] against ethics reform" handed to them by the Republicans!

The Republicans, apparently too unprincipled to raise a hue and cry over freedom of speech -- are apparently stalling only because they want to attach a line-item veto to this bill! This is why -- if the Bennett Amendment doesn't pass -- the Democrats will not be rightly blamed for destroying freedom of speech if the bill passes. Unless, of course, the Republicans wake up and grow a spine in the meantime.

I'm no great Washington-watcher, but this battle appears to be far from over, and it does appear that some groups that still value freedom of speech have their eyes on this. But it is pretty scary to contemplate how a bill that most Americans would think is a Good Thing can so easily have buried within it such a dangerous provision. Scarier still is the utter and reckless contempt so many of our elected representatives of both parties have for the very rights that make our great nation possible.

It's not just the Democrats we have to keep our eyes on. It's the whole lot of 'em in Congress.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

I am speechless at the thought of being made speechless by these buffoon/bastards.

It is both fascinating and deeply disturbing to see how even (in some cases) well-meaning people are disarmed by a lack of philosophical guidance. Even when there is no malevolence, philosophical blindness lets these yahoos-with-power destroy our freedoms.

Gus Van Horn said...

This seemed fairly obscure and recent news when I stumbled across it this morning. I hope my efforts to let a few who might be affected by this (a) get read and (b) register better with them than they have so far with those in Congress and the news media who should be interested in this, but apparently aren't.