03/12/05 — Astute teckies weigh in on electioneering law

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Astute teckies weigh in on electioneering law

Folks can get buried in their own ways of thinking if they’re not careful. So much so that sometimes they are blinded to the obvious.

This newspaper is guilty. Several times it has railed against the McCain-Feingold Act. Now, right before its Argus eyes, is another aspect to the act that it didn’t even see.

The McCain-Feingold Act is the one that limits advertising in favor of a candidate for elective office. The News-Argus has insisted that it amounts to a restriction of free speech, something the First Amendment prohibits. The paper has said when the government starts sorting out the rights that we can have and the ones we can’t have, that gets us in some mighty knotty situations.

Now, someone with a newer way of thinking has pointed out something else. We owe to an outfit called CNET News.com our gratitude for calling it to attention.

CNET News.com runs an Internet site. As you know, people get on the Internet and exchange their opinions in a robust, free-wheeling manner. It’s like a whole bunch of people gathered around a pot-bellied stove and chit-chatting, except instead of a stove they are sitting before computers, and instead of talking they are typing.

The principle is the same. This is the very kind of dialogue that the Constitution is supposed to protect. The Founding Fathers couldn’t have imagined that it would be going out from home to home on the Internet. But they would surely have been happy to know that someday there might be such a medium to expedite the sharing of our thoughts.

For some of us, it’s still hard to get used to, because it’s such a new concept, such an advanced one and such a wonderful one.

But, if you want to use it to claim your American right to free speech, look out. As CNET News.com has pointed out, the government is in the process of deciding just how much of that right you can have.

A few years ago, the Federal Election Commission, which governs the McCain-Feingold Act, voted to exempt the Internet. Now, however, a federal judge named Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has ruled that the Internet is covered by the law.

The election commission must decide how to respond, and it’s dealing with a big can of worms.

For instance, if a person links his Web site to a campaign site, is the value of that link considered a campaign contribution? If so, how does one determine the value?

Does an Internet blogger — or independent columnist — get the same exemption from the law as a newspaper columnist?

If bloggers are ruled not to be exempt, must newspaper columnists be covered too if their work appears in the paper’s online edition?

When you start thinking about it, the questions are endless.

There is only one good answer: Cancel the McCain-Feingold Act and restore free speech as we are supposed to have it in this democracy. Any old technologically impaired mossback can see that.

Published in Editorials on March 12, 2005 9:59 PM