Election Blogging

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(cross-posted at BLTB) As the mayoral race entered the final weeks, the Tribune ran an article about the race that contained a line that kind of ticked me off. The article was about RJ Haffner (an acquaintance of mine), who many of you know wrote, printed, and distributed the “Leader-less” newsletter that highlighted what he felt were reasons for not voting for the incumbent mayor. He cited several examples of what he deemed to be lack of leadership, political motives, and financial irregularities. The newspaper article briefly mentioned the legal implications of the brochure:

State election officials examined the newsletter this week to see if it might have violated law on election materials for not revealing the name of a treasurer.

So, someone felt that the Haffner was doing something illegal, eh? Hold on: Haffner did, in fact, comply with the law:

“…(he) filed a political committee report with the commissioner’s office. As it turned out, because he is the only member of the group called Citizens for a Better Great Falls, Haffner was not required to file the report, according to Dulcy L. Hubbert, program supervisor in the Commissioner of Political Practices office.

So in end, it was “no harm, no foul,” apparently. But wait – check out this one line in the article:

Another issue that could become tricky for political regulators might be Web logs, or blogs, on the Internet that are often anonymous.

Whoa there. I know there’s been plenty of discussion among much smarter people than me about this, but seeing it stated bluntly in my local paper, about an election in which I served as something of a conduit via my GreaterFalls.com site, definitely got my attention. All politics is local, and this issue just became local for me. Your thoughts?

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10 Comments

  1. I figured this article was the Trib’s transparent warning that they’ll tolerate no competition–and aren’t above a witchhunt, if necessary. I say, “bring it on!”

    Time for everybody to fire up the desktop publisher or set up a blogspot & thumb our noses at the tyrants (partisan or MSM).

    I know RJ has inspired me, and I’m glad I’ve finally found the other townies blogging. My blog has languished since the beginning of the year, but I’ll be up & running soon.

    The First Amendment ain’t just for Dems & reprobates anymore….

    Note: I though particularly interesting that several commented in this article that they were disturbed by the anonymity…curious that; facts are no less factual just because the source is anonymous.

  2. The inconsistency between freedom of speech and many of the dictates of election law is part of the reason that I am skeptical of almost all election-law “reforms,” like the recently enacted McCain-Feingold law.

    Whenever you tell anyone what they can and cannot say, especially before they say it, I think you are running afoul of one of our most important freedoms.

    Election regulators should not have the authority to regulate what I say, unless I run for for office (and therefore enter into an agreement with them, allowing them to curtail my speech within the boundries of election law). As a private citizen, I should be able to say and write what I like, when I like.

    And for anyone reading; don’t put up any bogus about commercial speech. The only restriction on commercial speech is that the speaker should be able to show some sort of verification that he had some reasonable expectation that the commercial speech was true. That shouldn’t apply to most political writings.

  3. Haffner seems to be a bit optimistic in his naming the group “Citizens for Better Great Falls,” when it should have simply been named “Citizen…” Perhaps he should have just had the cajones to openly name himself?

    That point notwithstanding, I found some background on the main issue under discussion:

    The FEC Office of General Counsel has released the draft of its recommended opinion (2005-16) in response to the request of Fired Up. The draft concludes that Fired Up, which operates a website in Missouri and other states to offer “unabashedly progressive” news and commentary, qualifies for the “press exemption.”

    The draft states, in relevant part:

    An examination of Fired Up’s websites reveals that a primary function of the websites is to provide news and information to readers through Fired Up’s commentary on, quotes from, summaries of, and hyperlinks to news articles appearing on other entities’ websites and through Fired Up’s original reporting. Fired Up retains editorial control over the content displayed on its websites, much as newspaper or magazine editors determine which news stories, commentaries, and editorials appear in their own publications….

    The Commission notes that an entity otherwise eligible for the press exception would not lose its eligibility merely because of a lack of objectivity in a news story, commentary, or editorial, even if the news story, commentary, or editorial expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for Federal office.

    The full draft may be found at: http://www.moresoftmoneyhardlaw.com/clientfiles/AO2005-16.pdf.

  4. First of all, I disagree with Aaron that the government should be allowed to regulate the speech of candidates. Maybe I don’t understand.

    Second, the statute relied on by the State of Montana is more than likely unconstitutional. I am going to do a little post on some research I have done on my site this morning. I have posted similar conclusions in a comment on Aaron’s blog.

  5. Mike, great post! But I don’t think we want to allow ourselves to be pigeonholed into their law. What if I don’t want to fit the “press examption.” What if I just want to exercise my rights as a private citizen to speak?

    Aaron raises an excellent point about campaign finance reform. And this whole issue with the Great Falls Leaderless gives us a great demonstration of the true motives of the media in jumping on the bandwagon to limit free speech for the rest of us: They want to control the information!

  6. Geeguy;

    To jump back into this, I think I should explain a bit more about what I meant.

    If I file for and run for office, I am agreeing to certain restrictions. For one thing, I am agreeing that any campaign documents, statements, mailings, etc. be accompanied by a disclaimer indicating who paid for that statement. More to point, I would be promising to not say anything that is not accompanied by such a disclaimer. I don’t think that is wrong.

    Come to think of it, I can’t think of any other prior restraints on speech imposed upon candidates than the disclaimer.

    Aaron

  7. “More to point, I would be promising to not say anything that is not accompanied by such a disclaimer.” Does this mean anyone running for office has to supply this disclaimer during any casual conversation? Or just political conversations? I was under the belief the disclaimer was to be used when the party originated some type of media used to influence others.

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