WASHINGTON — Are bloggers going mainstream? Web log founders who built followings with anti-establishment postings are now lobbying the establishment to try to fend off government regulation. Some are even working with a political action committee, lawyers and public-relations consultants to do it.
They say they have no choice.
“There’s a certain responsibility I have to help protect the medium. I have the platform, the voice to be able to do so,” said Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of the Web log www.DailyKos.com.
Moulitsas testified yesterday at a hearing on a Federal Election Commission proposal that would extend some campaign-finance rules to the Internet, including bloggers. He urged the FEC to take a hands-off approach.
“We have a democratic medium that allows anyone to have true freedom of the press. We have average citizens publishing their thoughts through research, through journalism, their activism and encouraging others to do the same,” Moulitsas told commissioners.
Moulitsas also is working with a lawyer who volunteered to help bloggers fight new government regulations and whose efforts were promoted in a PR firm press release on June 27. Moulitsas is prepared to lobby Congress himself if necessary, and he is the treasurer of BlogPac, a political action committee formed last year by bloggers.
Another witness, Michael Krempasky, founder of RedState.org, a pro-Republican blog, called bloggers “citizen journalists” and said that like traditional media, they should get an exemption from campaign finance regulation.
“What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh’s multimillion-dollar talk radio program, but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience?” Krempasky asked the commission.
Duncan Black — who founded the www.atrios.blogspot.com blog — featured a headline June 27 on his Web site, “Bite me, Congressman,” that linked to criticism of a Republican House committee chairman over global warming.
Asked whether testifying at hearings and organizing PACs were signs that bloggers were adopting mainstream political techniques, Black said he and his colleagues did not have much choice.
“I think once you do achieve a certain degree of traffic, influence, notoriety — however you want to call it — eventually the outsider label is not perfectly applicable anymore,” said Black, who describes himself as a “recovering economist.” He too planned to testify before the FEC.
Federal election officials until now have steered clear of Internet oversight, siding with bloggers and other online activists who portray the Web as a laboratory of grass-roots political participation and an outlet for free speech that should develop unhampered by the government.
But online political activity has become increasingly more sophisticated since the FEC last examined it a few elections ago.
Since the 2000 presidential campaign, when Arizona Sen. John McCain made a splash by raising millions online, candidates have raised tens of millions of dollars, and online political ads, consultants and organizing have become commonplace. Political parties and campaigns have added blogging to their Web sites; some online political strategists raise their profiles through blogs, then get hired by campaigns.
A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that just over one-third of U.S. adults went to the Internet during the 2004 elections to get political news, share their views on candidates or issues, volunteer for a campaign, or make a political donation. Nearly 30% of Internet users say they read blogs, Pew found.
Internet advertising is also big business, and it’s becoming a standard feature of blogs. Black said a small number of bloggers make a living from advertising revenue, but he added that most, including himself, have other jobs.
Acknowledging the Internet’s growth, a federal judge last year ordered the FEC to extend some of the nation’s campaign-finance and spending limits to political activity on the Web.
Bloggers fear that will mean new, unique limits on their activities, even though several of the commission’s six members have indicated they have no desire to go beyond what the judge ordered.
The FEC plans to decide this summer how far to go. Bloggers view whatever the commission decides as just the first step in their quest to remain free of government oversight.
“We still have Congress, and beyond Congress we still have the courts,” Moulitsas said.