Thursday, April 26, 2012

Should Political Bloggers Have to Disclose Payments From a Campaign?

By Associate Clinical Professor Jessica Levinson

If you are reading this post, then you, like me, may get most of your political information online. You may also have a number of favorite political bloggers. You may appreciate their voice, perspective, point of view, or just find them entertaining. Most of my favorite bloggers have a particular perspective, and it is rarely hidden. I neither expect nor crave blogs devoid of opinion.

You, like me, may know a little background on your preferred bloggers. It helps me to evaluate how much weight or credibility I will give to a certain argument to know, as we say, where the author is coming from. What I likely don't know, however, is whether that blogger is paid by a political campaign. Ann Ravel, Chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state's political watchdog agency, would like to change that.

If Ravel's proposal becomes law then California would become the first state to provide such information to the public.

The freedom of the expression is one of the most important, if not the most important, right enumerated in the United States Constitution. With very few exceptions, people should be able to say whatever they want, and the public should be able to listen to whomever they want. The same is true, with equal or greater force, for members of the press, whose function is to provide information to the public. A government that censors political speech by some speakers would and should be repugnant to our sensibilities.

However, this proposal does not limit the amount of information the people can disseminate or the public could receive. Rather it would just tell us something about who is speaking, thus providing the public with more information.

Currently campaigns must disclose payments to bloggers, but bloggers need not disclose payments received from campaigns. That may soon change. The details and legality of this plan must be worked out, but it is certainly worthy of serious discussion.

Here is a disclosure of my own. I know Chairwoman Ravel and have great respect for her. Therefore when she makes a proposal I give it weight. It seems the public should be entitled to make a similar judgment about their political bloggers by knowing who is helping to fund their speech.

Jessica A. Levinson is a visiting associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School. She studies governance issues, including campaign finance, ethics, ballot initiatives, redistricting, term limits, and state budgets.

[This post also appeared on]

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