I’m a blogger. I write about politics. I spend money to keep the blog going. Does that make me an entity that has to register with the state? And isn’t it a little bit creepy to contemplate requiring writers to register with the government? I wish I didn’t have to worry about that.
There’s a push in Concord to Do Something (Anything!) about campaign financing. More transparency. Know who all those donors are. Find out just who’s “really” funding politics. And as often happens when politicians get the itch to Do Something (Anything!), there are questions that get glossed over. Such is the case with New Hampshire’s Senate Bill 120.
I wrote a few months back in “I Am Not a PAC (some people have to be told)” about a guy in another state who blogged about politics, sponsored meetings, made flyers, and spent money to do so. He was accused by a local GOP official of failing to register as a PAC, since he was obviously spending money to influence elections.
I thought that was a stupid accusation then, and I still do. Now, New Hampshire has this bill. I have reason to take it personally. Or maybe I don’t. It depends on which supporter of SB 120 I’m talking to.
I promote pro-life public policy. I criticize attacks on the right to life and on the rights of individuals putting their peaceful beliefs into practice. That means I mention names of incumbents and candidates and bills.
SB 120 would require a political committee to register with the secretary of state, pay a fee, and make periodic financial reports including names of donors and the amount of each donation. Now, let’s look at the language and definitions in excerpts of SB 120 as it might apply to political bloggers. I’ve added emphasis here and there.
- “Political committee” means [among other things] “Any organization of 2 or more persons that promotes the success or defeat of a candidate or candidates or measure or measures, including the political committee of a political party; ..As used in this paragraph, ‘organization’ includes, but is not limited to, one or more natural persons…”
- “Expenditure” means disbursement of money or thing of value, or a promise of disbursement, or a transfer from one political committee to another, but …
- “Expenditure” shall not include activity designed to encourage people to register to vote or to vote (as long as a specific candidate isn’t mentioned), any communication by any membership organization or corporation to its members or stockholders (as long as the primary purpose of the organization isn’t to promote or defeat of a candidate or candidates and measure or measures), or any communication by any political committee that is not made for the purpose of promoting the success or defeat of candidate(s) or measure(s).
- And here’s my personal favorite: “political advocacy organization” means any entity that spends $5000 or more in a calendar year to pay for a communication that is “functionally equivalent to express advocacy” because, when taken as a whole, such communication is likely to be interpreted by a reasonable person only as advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate(s) or measure(s).
Excerpts, as I said. The whole dreary thing is here.
Don’t worry, I’ve been told; it only applies to two or more people. Problem: do the people I hire for tech support count as “people” under the bill? If I run guest posts, does that trigger the two-or-more provision? And what about the provision of the law a few lines down from “two or more people” that says an organization is “one or more natural persons”?
Don’t worry, I’ve been told; you don’t count because the blog’s communications don’t exist for the primary purpose of supporting/opposing candidates. Problem: Who’s going to determine my primary purpose? It would an administrative determination, with no appeal, leaving me subject to fines and possible prosecution for “false swearing.” I’m here to write in support of a culture of life. That means I spend a lot of time tracking bills and noting what officeholders and candidates are saying. I make it clear who’s not going to be any help on the life issues. What is some bureaucrat going to conclude about my “primary purpose”?
By the way, if you think accusations of violations of the law wouldn’t be publicized all over the place, you’re too naive to be allowed loose. One accusation of “campaign finance” violations would be enough to sully someone’s reputation permanently. Exoneration wouldn’t get nearly the same coverage.
Don’t worry, I’ve been told; your blog expenses won’t reach the “expenditure” threshold under law. And if they did, “we” (who’s “we”?) would divide your posts into political and non-political and prorate your expenditures accordingly. Problem: that prorate thing is nowhere in the bill. As for what I spend on the blog, I assure you that hosting, tech support, and travel add up.
You can understand why I’m concerned. The Senate will decide soon if it can live with the House amendment to SB 120. If the bill passes, it goes into effect immediately.
What am I supposed to do then? Keep a lawyer on retainer? That, I can’t afford.
One last question, to which no one has yet offered an answer: will putting my blog on a government registry really do anything to bring “transparency” to politics?