The blogosphere is under attack. For three weeks, bloggers have battled the Federal Election Commission, seeking exemption from campaign finance laws that would effectively regulate political speech on the Web. How did it come to this?
The answer lies in a burgeoning scandal which we might call Pewgate. Ryan Sager of the New York Post broke this extraordinary story on March 17. He learned that the McCain-Feingold Act – the law which empowers the FEC to muzzle bloggers – was pushed through Congress by fraud.
For those netizens whose modems and wireless cards went dead three weeks ago, here’s some of the background you missed.
The McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 gave federal judges and FEC officials the right to determine who can buy political ads on TV or radio during election season, and what they may say in those ads.
On September 18, 2004, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the FEC to extend McCain-Feingold’s censorship power over the Internet.
Dissident FEC commissioner Bradley Smith blew the whistle in a March 3 interview with CNETnews.com, warning that "grassroots Internet activity is in danger."
Smith warned that the FEC might regulate virtually "any decision by an individual to put a link on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet."
An explosion of blogger outrage ensued.
"I will continue to link to campaign websites whenever I want. … If they put me into jail for it, so be it," stated blogger Roger L. Simon.
Blogger Tom Smith at Right Coast declared, "[T]hey can stop us from blogging … when they pry our keyboards from our cold, dead fingers."
This week, the FEC seemingly compromised, releasing guidelines that appear to exempt most bloggers from regulation. However, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh warns that the guidelines are complex and ambiguous. Moreover, future court decisions may overturn them.
How did such a crazy law get through Congress in the first place? That’s where Pewgate comes in.
Beginning in 1994, a group of non-profit foundations began bankrolling "experts" and front groups whose purpose was to bamboozle Congress into thinking that millions of Americans were clamoring for "campaign finance reform" – even though they were not.
Sean P. Treglia, a former program officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, claims that he masterminded the scheme. Treglia boasted of his achievement at a March, 2004 conference at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. New York Post reporter Ryan Sager obtained a videotape of Treglia’s remarks.
"I'm going to tell you a story that I've never told any reporter," said Treglia. "Now that I'm several months away from Pew and we have campaign-finance reform, I can tell this story."
Campaign finance reform "didn't have a constituency," admitted Treglia. So he set out to create one.
Says Treglia, "The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot - that everywhere they [politicians] looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform."
To this end, Pew and its allies dispensed $140 million between 1994 and 2004, 88 percent of which – a cool $123 million – came from just eight foundations: Pew Charitable Trusts; Schumann Center; Carnegie Corporation; Joyce Foundation; George Soros’s Open Society Institute; Jerome Kohlberg Trust; Ford Foundation; and MacArthur Foundation.
Respected "good government" groups such as the Center for Public Integrity and Democracy 21 took Pewgate money. Soros and the Carnegie Corporation lavished contributions on John McCain’s Reform Institute.
Some Pewgate funds bought favorable media coverage. Sager reports that the Carnegie Corporation paid the American Prospect magazine $132,000 to publish a special issue pushing campaign finance reform. National Public Radio has spent at least $860,000 of Pewgate funds on programs spotlighting the role of money in politics.
Pewgate’s tentacles reach even to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of the legal arguments upon which the court based its December 10, 2003 decision to uphold McCain-Feingold derived from data now deemed to have been fraudulent – data cooked up by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a Soros-funded operation which received millions in Pewgate lucre.
"[A]lmost half the footnotes relied on by the Supreme Court in upholding [McCain-Feingold] are research funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts," Treglia crowed.
Sean Treglia currently sits on the board of the Pew-funded Institute for Policy, Democracy & the Internet, which seeks to foster regulation of political speech on the Web.
The battle of the blogosphere has only just begun.
Richard Poe is a New York Times-bestselling author and journalist whose blog appears at RichardPoe.com. He is managing editor of David Horowitz’s group blog Moonbat Central. Poe’s latest book is Hillary’s Secret War: The Clinton Conspiracy to Muzzle Internet Journalists.