I would like offer my thanks to the activists who took part in yesterday’s action alert calling on the House to reject a measure that would have allowed unlimited soft money expenditures for ads on the Internet.
H.R. 1606 was just the latest of a string of efforts by opponents of campaign finance reform in Congress to roll-back federal campaign finance law and allow more corporate money to flow into campaigns. This bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), quickly gained the support of the leading congressional opponents of limits on money in politics.
To be sure, political communications on the Internet, and blogging in specific, has now emerged as the most fundamental, useful and affordable means for political dialogue. It requires the utmost protection of free speech rights. But protecting the free speech rights of bloggers need not come at the price of opening the flood gates of special interests paying for candidate campaign ads.
The Center for Democracy and Technology developed a legislative proposal — H.R. 4900, sponsored by Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) and Tom Allen (D-Maine) — that bridged the concerns of many in the Internet community and the campaign finance reform community.
H.R. 4900 could have passed Congress, too. But protecting the Internet and preserving the integrity of campaign finance law were not the objectives of the key congressional sponsors of H.R. 1606. They primarily wanted to blow a hole in the soft money ban. As a result, Hensarling sought a rule of order that would prohibit any amendments or substitutes to H.R. 1606 during a floor vote — in essence, to forbid consideration of the good H.R. 4900 as a substitute measure for the bad H.R. 1606.
The pressure we all put on Congress forced the Rules Committee to back down and not offer the restriction against amendments or substitutes. Faced with the reality that Congress could well end up approving good Internet legislation, rather than harming federal campaign finance law, congressional leaders withdrew H.R. 1606 from the floor and have also not scheduled H.R. 4900 for consideration
The key congressional sponsors of H.R. 1606 never really wanted to protect the Internet; they just wanted more money to pour into campaigns. If they cannot have the latter, they will remove the former from consideration.
Public Citizen will now join with others to promote the concepts of H.R. 4900 as a regulation before the Federal Election Commission, beginning next week.