Monday, April 04, 2005

SF Attempting To Set Some Bad Policy

From the Campaign-Finance-Lunacy files:

Thanks to reader CS for this story - San Francisco May Regulate Blogging:

Just when you thought the Federal Election Commission had it out for the blogosphere, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took it up a notch and announced yesterday that it will soon vote on a city ordinance that would require local bloggers to register with the city Ethics Commission and report all blog-related costs that exceed $1,000 in the aggregate.
Blogs that mention candidates for local office that receive more than 500 hits will be forced to pay a registration fee and will be subject to website traffic audits, according to Chad Jacobs, a San Francisco City Attorney.
The proposal seeks to regulate "electioneering communications" - from which the blog angle derives. Proposed Sec. 1.161.5(c) defines "Electioneering Communication" as any communication, including but not limited to any broadcast, cable, satellite, radio, internet, or telephone communication, and any mailing, flyer, doorhanger, brochure, card, sign, billboard, facsimilie, or printed advertisment that (A) refers to a clearly identified candidate for City elective office (or someone up for a recall), AND (B) is distributed within 90 days prior to an election to 500 or more individuals who are registered/eligible to register [that'd be most everyone over 18, folks]. (Emphasis and snark added.) The section establishes a rebuttable presumption that any broadcast, radio, billboard, is going to hit 500 such people.

The term does NOT include expenditures (the official kind already disclosed under state law); stuff the city pays for; conversation (except some phone conversations); bumber stickers [phew]; news items [here's the blogger's most logical out - though of course we run into that iffy bloggers-as-journos issue again]; and other sundry exceptions.

The City reporting requirements would require disclosure by every person who makes payments for electioneer communications in an aggregate amount of $1000 during any calendar year. Well, how much of this blog is electioneering - or could be - under the definition here? I don't spend over $1000 year, I assure you (unless you count opportunity cost or the potential fair market value of my product - were there any); but I think the metblog might. Of course, over there, I'm one of the few political-leaning bloggers, so would we have to divide the costs per blogger, per post, to see if we reach $1000 year?

In practical terms, oversight and enforcement of this ordinance would be impossible. It would, however, be a nifty way to smack down a particular website or drag your opponent into a disclosure-fest of meaningless paperwork. Hijinx also ensue when candidates dig up sites to lift a field's expenditure ceiling when the aggregate internet promotion of a candidate exceeds the voluntary spending limits.

Word has it at least one Supervisor will be offering an amendment to remove internet regulation from the proposal. That's an excellent start.

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