Some great advice on how to start your own business online! 
For more information please visit

San Francisco blog regulation: Not so bad?

Via Instapundit, Michael Bassik at Personal Democracy Forum reports that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors wants to regulate bloggers:

Just when you thought the Federal Election Commission had it out for the blogosphere, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took it up a notch and announced yesterday that it will soon vote on a city ordinance that would require local bloggers to register with the city Ethics Commission and report all blog-related costs that exceed $1,000 in the aggregate.

Blogs that mention candidates for local office that receive more than 500 hits will be forced to pay a registration fee and will be subject to website traffic audits, according to Chad Jacobs, a San Francisco City Attorney.

The entire Board is set to vote on the measure on April 5th, 2005.
The text of the proposed ordinance is here in pdf format. And much as I would love to catch Democrats cracking down on free speech, my own first-hand research (i.e., actually reading the darned thing) suggests that Messrs. Jacobs and Bassik have clearly misrepresented its impact.

First, the bad:

It appears the ordinance would require any blogger who reaches an audience of at least 500 unique visitors (not hits) over a 90-day period to post a disclosure statement indicating who paid for any "Electioneering Communication" on his blog.

Section 1.161.5(c)(3) defines "Electioneering Communication" as "any communication, including but not limited to any broadcast, cable, satellite, radio, internet, or telephone communication" that refers to a San Francisco candidate and is distributed to at least than 500 potential voters within 90 days before the relevant election. A blog shown to have, or to be likely to have, at least 500 unique visitors, would clearly fall within the ambit of this provision.

Interestingly, Section 1.161.5(c)(3)(C)(vi) exempts "news stories, commentaries, or editorials distributed through any newspaper, radio station, television station, or other recognized news medium" not owned or controlled by a political party, committee or candidate.

Next, the good:

Section 1.161.5(b)(1) states that only someone who spends at least $1,000 during a calendar year on "Electioneering Communications" would need to report such expenditures to the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Thus, it's not the case that "all blog-related costs" would have to be reported, but only those costs that paid for actual "Electioneering Communications". Obviously, this would be a tough line to draw, but if your blog has 50 posts about your pet cat Snuffles and one post urging readers to vote for Mr. Smith, some sort of pro rata assessment of site costs would seem to be appropriate. And while it might be reasonable to infer that enforcement of the ordinance might require all bloggers to register with the Ethics Commission, it does not mention such a requirement at all.

Indeed, it strikes me that very few, if any, bloggers would be affected by the proposed reporting requirements. Instead, the ordinance seems designed to force people to disclose payments made to bloggers in exchange for their saying nice things about a particular candidate. In other words, it's aimed more at the guys who paid Kos than at Kos himself.

My take:

This ordinance is not the first step on the road to Big Brother. It is designed to identify payments made to finance electioneering, whether through blogs, direct mail, television, or radio. It is not intended to regulate unpaid statements made voluntarily on blogs.

But why should the ordinance carve out an exemption for the mainstream media? As the it currently stands, I would have to disclose a payment I made to a blogger to get him to post favorably about my candidate, while a simlar payment to a member of the mainstream media could remain secret.

The implication is that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors thinks the mainstream media are above suspicion. They'd never take bribes, goes the thinking, so why even bother to include them in our new payment disclosure law? Such a view strkes me as hypocritical. If the MSM is possessed of such unimpeachable integrity, why should they require an exemption from the city's reporting requirements?


Anonymous said...

My initial reaction is, who the hell do the friggin' San Francisco Board of Supervisors think they are? The Supreme Court? Don't they have some potholes to fill and traffic lights to repair?

A lot of us who don't live on the Left Coast are getting pretty sick of self-important, local California politicians seeking to impose their own queer beliefs on the rest of the country. I mean, does ANYONE really think that outfitting motorcycles with catalytic converters benefits the environment to any measurable degree?

Some San Francisco blogger looking for notoriety should slap them with a suit alleging infringement of the Bill of Rights pronto. Then the San Franciscans should vote these boobs out of office for not doing what they were elected to do, namely, take care of the city of San Francisco. 

Posted by The Dread Pundit Bluto

Anonymous said...

Oh... I'll have to post about this tomorrow. Tonight, it's late and it's been a busy day. Plus, here it the States, we "Sprung Forward" today. One less hour to sleep. Keep up the good work. 

Posted by Paul

Anonymous said...

Ha. I would never accept money to promote anyone in (or to) elected office in the Looney Bin of San Francisco. I wonder if they'll require me to fill out forms when I start making fun of them again?

I would, however, accept lots of money to encourage people to leave San Francisco for more a more sane environment. 

Posted by IO ERROR

Anonymous said...

First - I don't think disclosure is a bad thing, especially when we have had such scandals as the Federal Government using our tax money to create propaganda pieces that are treated as "legitimate news". If you're being paid to spout your message but hide that fact, how can we determine your credibility? Or do you think it is appropriate for any political group to hide the funding of "news or opinions" without disclosure?

That said, I think the city's approach is heavy-handed and inconsistent (typical of city councils across the globe who think they are all important -- we live in a myopic world). I agree that news media should not be exempt from disclosure (perhaps we'd find out how often Fox News is paid to spout its crazy views). I don't believe that registering with the "Ethics Committee" of each city council is the right way to perform that disclosure.

Posted by Mark Munz

Anonymous said...

This iss a good analysis of the ordinance. Being a San Francisco resident and a new blogger, I clearly started to fidget when reading the proposal. The reason being, the SF Board of Supervisors aren't exactly known for their wisdom in decision making and have been trying to consolidate power as a body versus the mayor's office for some time. Knowing this, I agree with your sentiment of wanting to catch them with their hand in the cookie jar.

Alas, I do agree that this is much to do about nothing (provided it passes). I generally find slipperly slopes, especially in SF politics, to be stickier than what their forecasts call for, however, I think it needs to be said that we should keep our eyes on what the SFBOS are up to regarding the regulation of blogging.  

Posted by TF6S

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I can only imagine the reaction that would have ensued if the right had proposed this. Likely, it would have received coverage on CBS before anyone bothered to really read the proposal. 

Posted by Bottle Rocket

Anonymous said...

Gaijin: The actual, real bad in this ordinance is the same as that enacted by my city last year (Cotati, 45 minutes north of SF). It creates a logistical nightmare for anyone running for office. As one who had to deal with it firsthand , I can tell you that it is draconian and unnecessary. Anyone who hasn't run for office under such regulations will find it hard to grasp just how ridiculous this kind of campaign finance reform legislation really is. I also blogged about this issue, and you are correct, it seems to be limited to campaign issues. But still, as I said....  

Posted by Mark

Anonymous said...

I personally would take money to say good things about a person.

If you pay me money i will pretty much do whatever you want, though nothing is free, and if it is espically repugnat (like saying vote for a lib, then it would also be expensive) 

Posted by cube

Anonymous said...

There is nothing at all redeeming in any of this proposed law.

Fascism on the left is nothing new - do not try to justify this crap because it was introduced by a socialist council member. 

Posted by Objectivist Mafia

Anonymous said...

Nice job - thanks for taking the time to look it over. I wish more people would do this sort of thing. 

Posted by Cassandra

Anonymous said...

What is least surprising about this is that it is coming from S.F.

That is totally predictable that the self proclaimed city of tolerance would be so intolerant of free expression. 

Posted by gindy



Powered by Blogger.