It seems that catching astroturf was more the aim of section 220 of the bill that I blogged about a few days ago as threatening free speach. It turns out the blogosphere uproar was really lead by a conservative Astroturf.
Conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie whipped the blogging community into a frenzied, and largely misdirected, opposition to the provision by trumpeting the section’s supposed threat to First Amendment rights, freedom, Mom and apple pie.
Section 220 was designed to shed light on so-called “Astroturf” campaigns – seemingly grassroots campaigns that are in fact funded and guided by lobbying or PR firms, usually on behalf of large corporate clients. It would have required lobbying firms or individuals who were retained for “paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying” to register with the US Congress, similar to the registration requirement currently in place for K Street lobbyists.
Because of clumsy wording that would have included an employer in the definition of a “client,” the requirement would have applied to anyone who, in the service of their employer, engaged in the stimulation of grassroots lobbying designed to influence more than 500 people, as long as the organization spent over $25,000 per quarter on the activity. Thus, anyone who was paid $25,000 per quarter to maintain a weblog with a readership of more than 500 people would have to register with Congress under section 220 if they spent all of their time encouraging the general public to contact an executive or legislative official over a matter of public policy’.
Thus, instead of putting pressure on the Senate to fix a well-intentioned – but poorly executed – proposal, ATA launched a scare campaign aimed at convincing the blogging community that the federal government was waiting in the wings to send its critics in the blogosphere to jail if they failed to register as grassroots lobbyists.
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