‘Blog Swarm’ Stings The FEC

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

The Federal Election Commission’s announcement that it intends to extend campaign finance restrictions to Internet communications is generating plenty of hostility online, particularly among the Web diarists known as bloggers.

After one FEC commissioner hinted that the agency might slap regulations on the Web activists sometimes credited with rallying the masses during the 2004 presidential election campaign, bloggers protested online. “This is something bloggers of all political stripes should unite against,” syndicated newspaper columnist Michelle Malkin declared on her blog.

Most of the FEC commissioners insist that they have no interest in regulating the political speech of individual Web users. In draft regulations approved on March 24, the agency says that the proposed rules are designed to “have an extremely limited impact, if any, on the use of the Internet by individuals.”

But many bloggers remain skeptical. In reaction to the FEC’s plan to harness part of the Internet, individual online activists set off a “blog swarm.”

The commission began pondering how to apply campaign finance laws to the Internet in 1999, well before the McCain-Feingold law was enacted and well before blogs were widespread and influential. During the 2000 election cycle, the activities of Web sites like the now-defunct Voter.com — which billed itself as “a central clearinghouse of candidate and issue information, provided by the candidates and issue advocates themselves” — raised questions about whether online campaign activities fell within the FEC’s jurisdiction.

In 2001, the FEC proposed rules that addressed issues such as hyperlinks and political endorsements on the Web sites of corporations and labor unions. The planned regulations generated thousands of comments, most of them negative. Ultimately, the FEC did not issue final regulations.



Banking On The Margins

Originally published at National Journal
By K. Daniel Glover

The current congressional debate over bankruptcy reform encompasses a classic American tug-of-war between creditors and debtors.

During the Senate debate in March, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., spoke for creditors when he chastised debtors for using bankruptcy laws to avoid paying their bills. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., countered on behalf of “ordinary” Americans by blasting credit card companies for trying to “squeeze every last dollar out of decent, hardworking, play-by-the-rules people” who have been devastated by events like catastrophic illness, job loss, and divorce.

The pointed rhetoric no doubt sounds familiar to students of bankruptcy policy; such oratory is as old as the law itself. More precisely, the current debate harks back to the late 1800s, the era of the first long-term bankruptcy statute in U.S. history.

Bankruptcy is one of the few issues specifically mentioned in the Constitution, with Article I granting Congress the right to pass “uniform laws on the subject.” But lawmakers were reluctant to seize that power. Economic upheaval, such as that created by the Panic of 1837 or the Civil War, sometimes moved them to act, but only for limited purposes and for brief times. Congress wrote bankruptcy acts in 1800, 1841, and 1867, only to repeal them in 1803, 1843, and 1878.

The tide began to shift in the 1880s. In his 2001 book, “Debt’s Dominion: A History of Bankruptcy Law in America,” University of Pennsylvania law professor David Skeel attributed the change in part to the rise of trade associations. The National Convention of Boards of Trade and the National Convention of Representatives of Commercial Bodies were formed to lobby for bankruptcy legislation, and Jay Torrey, a St. Louis lawyer and the president of the latter group, became a driving force.