A Times reader responds to our editorial, "Protecting KVI-AM," available by clicking here, with this comment:
Are you saying the KVI had the right to include explicit campaign materials, including signature petitions, on its website?
Yes, I think KVI should have the right to put campaign materials, including signature petitions, on its website, without disclosure or regulation of any kind. If we conceive of freedom of the press only in regard to ink on newsprint and voice and images broadcasted, we concede the web, and the web is the new medium of speech. That is the same mistake the people made in the 1920s when they conceded the airwaves to federal regulation of content under the un-American idea that the radio spectrum belonged to the government. We have fought to regain that territory and mostly have. Let's not make the same mistake with the Internet. Keep the government out. If the line between what is regulated and what is free is paid versus unpaid , then unpaid posting of material on a web page --by KVI, by the Seattle Times, by the Washington State Labor Council, by BIAW--is exempt. All exempt, all the time.
That is the Times' position, as I understand it.
And the reader said:
So "inkind" contributions of any kind by a media company are exempt, but a cash contribution is reportable? How about paying for materials, such as if KVI paid a printer to print mail pieces directly, instead of giving money to a formal campaign to do it? I guess what I am intrigued about is, can I go out and buy a small media outlet, then run campaigns through it without reporting?
I'm not a lawyer... I am trying to draw a line that preserves the essence of the First Amendment. If that knocks a hole in campaign-finance law, well, maybe it does. I would say that "in kind" contributions of speech or the press by any company, media or otherwise, and any individual, should be exempt, but that "in kind" contributions of computers, cars, office space, etc., should not be. That does seem to mean that KVI could print pieces and be free of regulation, but that a KVI contribution of money, or blank paper, to a campaign to print pieces could be regulated. It would depend on whose speech it was: KVI's or the campaign's. As for your question about buying a small media outlet, and thereby getting around the disclosure requirement on the campaigning by that outlet: I suppose that would be possible. I don't think it would be a common occurrence: Do you see Tim Eyman, or the WEA, or Association of Washington Business, buying a radio station? But they could. If it's their radio station, they have the same rights as Fisher has over KVI or the Times has over the page for which I write.
The real problem here, I think--and I am going beyond the Seattle Times' opinion now--is that regulating political campaigns and guaranteeing freedom of speech are fundamentally antagonistic ideas. In each situation where they conflict, one has to give way. The line between paid and unpaid speech is an attempt to let these two antagonitic ideas live with each other, each in its own sphere. If that line cannot be maintained--if the logic of campaign-finance law requries that we disclose and limit more and more kinds of speech and press, crowding in on the right of free political speech, then we have to choose one principle or the other. If that happens, I'm with the First Amendment.
Respond to Bruce.