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Monday, November 21, 2005

Of Blogs and Politics

Ned Wigglesworth (me) will be on air to discuss political blogging today at 2 p.m. PST on Insight with Jeffrey Callison, an NPR show from Sacramento. Two California political bloggers will also be on the show.

As we witnessed with the 2004 presidential candidacy of Howard Dean among others, the internet is playing an increasingly important role in American politics, opening up new opportunities for fundraising, organizing, and communications.

One aspect of this phenomenon has been the emerging impact on politics of web logs ("blogs"), typically an on-line mishmash of journal, commentary, and discussion . . . not to mention navel-gazing, backbiting, and petty partisan attacks. In other words, blogs represent much of the spectrum of humanity and politics.

As candidates, political parties, and groups of all political stripes begin to use blogs to organize, fundraise, and communicate their message, blogs have become another front in the war on big money in politics. A federal court recently ordered the Federal Elections Commission to rewrite some of its regulations in order to ensure that the internet doesn't become the next loophole in campaign finance laws. Several bills on the topic have also been introduced in Congress.

In part because blogs represent elements of grassroots politics at its finest, much of the "blogosphere" is up in arms against applying any campaign finance regulation to blogs. While the ability of people to use blogs to speak up and out should be staunchly protected, blogs are not immune from the propensity of big money to hijack any medium for its own ends. And in fact, because of the way internet search engines operate, a consortium of bloggers funded by big money could effectively drown out independent bloggers, stifling their free speech, not empowering it.

While the FEC recently released an advisory opinion placing most blogs within the press exemption from campaign finance regulations, the debate is far from over. The role of blogs in politics, and of money in political blogging, will likely continue to evolve.

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