Saturday, November 22, 2008 Washington State regulators ask: Can blogging be lobbying?

The questions being asked by nameless, faceless “regulators” is: Is a blog that advocates for something a lobbying effort, should the blogger be treated a lobbyist by the state? I do not think this is too tough to figure out, and let’s not let the fact that I read the “newspaper” story online point a bright light on how this will play out.

I am going insert my opinion throughout the story. My opinion isn’t likely going to be more meaningful to the opinions that readers already have. Our opinions are our own truth, but differences in interpretation in definitions (common understanding of terms) is what the story is really about.

Here is why this matters to me, at the risk of displaying a spongy self-absorbency, I am a Communication Major at the University of Washington, admittedly and old one. I have cobbled together enough credits to coast out the last 10 credits of my degree as electives, planning to graduate in June. The area of concentration in my coursework has been Communication Technology and Society.

The state working toward resolving today’s media problems with new definitions in regulation, when necessary, is a great idea. The application of old media laws to new media are dumb to the situation of the present day. Washington State Public Disclosure Commission is working on this issue and should help clarify the situation.

Here are my opinions inserted throughout this article from the AP, posted at the

Blogger beware? State regulators are wondering whether online political activism amounts to lobbying, which could force Web-based activists to file public reports detailing their finances.

In a collision of 21st century media and 1970s political reforms, the inquiry hints at a showdown over press freedoms for bloggers, whose self-published journals can shift between news reporting, opinion writing, political organizing and campaign fundraising.

State officials are downplaying any possible media rights conflict, pointing out that regulators have already exempted journalistic blogging from previous guidelines for online campaign activity.

What the government hasn't done very well is say who is a "journalist". The assumption is toward protecting traditional (big) media that is trying to transition from pulp to electrons. The Seattle PI has paid journalist/bloggers that enjoy the rights and protections under law any other, they have bucketed their bloggers into three sections: Seattle PI journalist (PI Staff Blogs), then they have their reader blogs (not so protected), then they have their "blogs for the rest of us" (not so protected).

It is extremely unlikely that ANY of those bloggers would be subject to lobbying questions, not because they are absent bias, but because of the newspaper media source enjoys the atmosphere of journalistic blogging because of where they blog.

Sound fair? Sound plausible?

If the state calls me (never happen) and demands that I open my empty wallet to them my options are limited, if demand the same thing of the three buckets of Seattle PI bloggers and without question the Seattle PI would come to the defense of any of them in order to reserve their paid staff and their blogs, a slippery slope.
Nobody knows if their citizen bloggers are getting paid, or are in the industry in some way that they are blogging about.
This is not the point of debate, not exactly, but it should be.

The issue at hand is defining the difference between somebody like me, the guy with a nasty blogging habit that openly advocates for something, and a lobbyist. I state right in my profile to you left who and what I am.
Not a problem for the state, I am not a lobbyist, let's hope.

Now, if I had handbills with my message and an extensive mailing list, and I was directly compensated to advocate, not a problem, I would be a lobbyist. Now replace handbill with blog, and mailing with emailing, am I still a lobbyist because I am being compensated? Likely, yes. What if I am not compensated at the time? Maybe. What if I write the same stories as "special to the Seattle Times" in the op/ed section of the newspaper? Maybe not.

Nobody is calling newspapers political lobbyist when they endorse candidates for office, even though they have advertisements from political parties, and I have to question if they get more from a given candidate after an endorsement. It is a newspaper so that's ok.

Some media is more special than others because of how the laws and rules are crafted. New rules are being crafted that will define new lines.
But the blogosphere is taking the notion seriously. One prominent liberal blogger in Seattle is already issuing a dare - if the government wants David Goldstein to file papers as a lobbyist, it will have to take him to court.

Goldstein, publisher of the widely read, wants to know how his political crusades could be subject to financial disclosures while newspaper writers, radio hosts and others in traditional media get a pass.

For most bloggers, Goldstein said, the work "is a hobby, a sideline. And yet they contribute greatly to the public debate and to the new journalism."

This is my hobby, too, I have not been paid a dime to advocate anything.

What about Brian Robinson? Pretty simple, he has a blog, He also has an advocacy web site that clearly says it is an advocacy site.
Not the same site, but he might get second guessed because SonicsCentral is a blog and not printed as a "newspaper". Sound fair? This blog and SonicsCentral are not structually different.
"When you start talking about regulating Internet activity, you open up a Pandora's Box," he said.

Political money in Washington is regulated by the state Public Disclosure Commission, which compiles reports on candidates' and lobbyists' finances and makes the information available to the public.

The agency was created after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in 1972. A second measure in 1992 added contribution limits and other reforms, leading to a set of rules that the state calls "one of the most exhaustive disclosure laws in the country."

Under the law, lobbyists must register with the state, and submit regular reports about who pays them, how they spend money, and which issues they're working on.

Groups that don't fit the traditional definition of "lobbyist" also have to file reports, provided they meet certain spending thresholds while leading public campaigns intended to influence public policy.

Earlier this year, the PDC was asked by some lobbyists whether calls to action made over the Internet fell under any lobbying regulations, and the agency began probing the topic.
"One of the issues was the grass roots involvement, in terms of prompting individuals, in a call to action, to contact legislators, to send in letters," said Doug Ellis, the PDC's assistant director.

Business interests asked, "Can we do the same kind of thing? Is it proper? Do we have to report it?" Ellis said.

The question of blogging soon entered the picture. For online political junkies like Goldstein, stirring up the public and urging readers to sound off about public policy is a key part of the mission.

But, as Goldstein pointed out in a recent public meeting on the topic, the same could be said for newspaper editorialists or radio commentators - and they're exempt from reporting their income and spending under an exemption created to protect the media.

"What you're basically saying is, if you want to raise any money at all, now you have to report," Goldstein said. "It's treating us entirely different than other media outlets."

There is the nut to crack.
Nothing is telling a business that they can not have a blog, but asking for money and advocating on that blog may be seen as a lobbying effort, dull as the blog might be. The business community is saying that it isn't part of the lobbying effort if other blogs can raise money for a cause.

What may be the meaningful hair splitting is that I am not asking anybody for money, the is, and so is the, so each can keep doing what they are doing in the public interest.

Having a bias and the desire to communicate news and information for that purpose is not lobbying (Fox News can do it, so can

Having a business and then advocating for that business is just not the same thing. Wine magazines have advertisements for (you guessed it) wine. Having a wine business and publishing a wine magazine, about your wine, is not news, it is an advertisement. Deliver that publication to state senators to advocate for tax breaks for the wine industry and it is a lobbying effort.
Wine Spectator publishing a story about the industry benefitting from possible tax breaks is NOT lobbying.
Pulp or electrons, the same logic should apply. The question becomes how PDC defines all of this.

Much of the discussion about blogging as lobbying boils down to the evolving distinction of who is and is not a member of the media.

While blogs and other online-only information sources are showing greater influence, traditional outlets - particularly newspapers - are struggling with a deeply wounded business model.

"Our definitions of all of this are changing so dramatically, right in front of our eyes," said Sree Sreenivasan, of Columbia University's journalism school.

Laws have often defined media by describing the form in which the information is delivered - a newspaper, a magazine, or a licensed TV or radio station. But the Internet is eroding those tried-and-true distinctions, making such definitions sound hopelessly outdated.

In this environment, Sreenivasan said, regulators facing a question about who qualifies as media might need to undertake a much more detailed examination of the content being produced.

"It's very hard to put them in a box: 'This is OK, this is not OK,'" Sreenivasan said. "It's a waste of everybody's time. I'd say, what is the work they're doing?"

The PDC's Ellis doesn't expect commissioners to impose financial reporting for bloggers who a perform a journalistic function. Since that type of activity was excluded in campaign finance rules, he said, "I don't see any reason why they would veer from past practice."

Lobbyist Steve Gano, who represents business clients in Olympia, said he's not troubled by activist bloggers who practice a form of journalism. But the increasing presence of Web-based advocacy groups are a different story, he said.

Well, no, before blogs there were pitchforks and torches carried by people advocating something be done by authorities using the communicative means of, and "advertising" by, encouraging more people with pitchforks and torches to march on the town hall.

The pitchfork and torch makers were not soliciting the local farmer to go to the local authorities to advocate for more pitchforks and torches, for the expressed benefit of the pitchfork and torch makers.

If an online group doesn't have to report the type of activities that would otherwise be considered lobbying, Gano asked, why shouldn't lobbyists just close up shop and relaunch their efforts online?

"There's a new business model out there," Gano said. "I can just sit at home, e-mail folks from here, and never have to disclose who my financial backers are."
On the Net:


The lobbyist does have a point, but the question is how somebody can tell the difference?
Maybe a simple note on a blog that says, "I just a nut that wants something done about Key Arena (or insert your topic) and I am gonna write about it. If you give me money, that's your problem", or something like that.

If you have a lobbyist pulplication, you engage in those activities without disclosing your motives it is against the current law. Using electrons to do that same thing does not make is fundimentally different.

The story was published here: Washington State regulators ask: Can blogging be lobbying?
Associated Press Writer
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

Have a great day,
Mr Baker

Sent from my iPhone

No comments: