As we’ve already noted, there is a serious threat looming to free political speech on the internet, as the Federal Election Commission considers whether and how to apply the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law to the internet. This worthwhile commentary on the subject (hat tip: How Appealing) observes that "the upcoming effort to regulate and restrict the Internet thus seems as inevitable as it is unfortunate. Indeed, the effort to clamp down on the Internet will succeed absent resistance. Someone said that a man with a hammer sees nails everywhere. Congress holds the hammer of McCain-Feingold, and its members see the Internet as a nail."
Congress is also considering broadening the scope of McCain-Feingold to regulate nonprofit tax-exempt organizations more heavily. There is probably room for improvement there, but there is also ample room for over-regulation that will make it unnecessarily difficult for individuals and groups who wish to present their views to the public (i.e., to engage in political speech) to do so. The details of campaign finance law are painfully complicated, but the issue nonetheless merits close and continuing attention from anyone concerned about free political speech in this country.
UPDATE: Election law specialist Rick Hasen (who writes the Election Law blog) sent me this link to his recent article discussing what the FEC should do, and what it probably will do, with respect to the internet. For anyone willing to get into a bit of the nitty-gritty of campaign finance law (which you really have to do to understand the issues), Hasen’s article is a very good introduction.