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March 10, 2006

Decoding tricky legislation

One of my pet peeves about the US legislative process is that when lawmakers propose legislation that amends previous legislation, they can just write what they want to change without including the full text of the law as it would read with the changes incorporated.

So you get bills introduced that say things like:

Paragraph (c)(1)) of section 304 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2U.S.C. 434(c)(1)) is amended by adding at the end the following: `, except that no such statements shall be required with regard to communications made over the Internet by an individual where the aggregate annual amount paid by such individual for such communications do not exceed $5,000.’

I read that and I have no idea what the proposal actually means. (Do they do this on purpose?) The only way to decipher it is to go back to the original law and find the language and see how the proposed change alters it.

The above example is a snippet from a legislative proposal by the Center for Democracy and Technology that we reported on today. The entire piece of legislation reads like that. So in order to figure out what exactly they were proposing, I had to go back to previously enacted law and piece it together with the text they wanted to add. I thought I’d show you my work.

Key to what you will read below:

Black: Text of the CDT proposal
Blue: US Code to be amended
Purple: Proposed addition to US code

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Internet Free Speech Protection Act of 2005'.

SECTION 2. EXCLUSION OF INTERNET COMMUNICATIONS FROM TREATMENT AS PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONS.

Paragraph (22) of section 301 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C.431(22)) is amended by adding at the end the following: `Such term shall not include any communication made over the Internet, other than:

(i) one or more communications placed by a person on another person's or persons’ websites for amounts exceeding an annual aggregate amount of $5,000, (ii) a communication made by a State, district, or local committee of a political party described in section 323(b),

(iii) a communication made by any political committee, or

(iv) a communication made by any person described in section 316 (other than a

corporation described in such section whose principal purpose is operating an online discussion forum or disseminating social or political ideas or commentary through operation of a website, web log, podcast, or other similar forms of Internet communication and which is not established, financed, maintained or controlled by a labor organization or by another corporation without such a principal purpose.)’

The term "public communication" means a communication by means of any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising facility, mass mailing, or telephone bank to the general public, or any other form of general public political advertising. Such term shall not include any communication made over the Internet other than:

(i) one or more communications placed by a person on another person's or persons’ websites for amounts exceeding an annual aggregate amount of $5,000, (ii) a communication made by a State, district, or local committee of a political party described in section 323(b),

(iii) a communication made by any political committee, or

(iv) a communication made by any person described in section 316 (other than a corporation described in such section whose principal purpose is operating an online discussion forum or disseminating social or political ideas or commentary through operation of a website, web log, podcast, or other similar forms of Internet communication and which is not established, financed, maintained or controlled by a labor organization or by another corporation without such a principal purpose.)’

SECTION 3. EXCLUSION OF INTERNET COMMUNICATIONS FROM REPORTING AND DISCLAIMER REQUIREMENTS.

1. Paragraph (c)(1)) of section 304 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2U.S.C. 434(c)(1)) is amended by adding at the end the following: `, except that no such statements shall be required with regard to communications made over the Internet by an individual where the aggregate annual amount paid by such individual for such communications do not exceed $5,000.’

Every person (other than a political committee) who makes independent expenditures in an aggregate amount or value in excess of $250 during a calendar year shall file a statement containing the information required under subsection (b)(3)(A) of this section for all contributions received by such person except that no such statements shall be required with regard to communications made over the Internet by an individual where the aggregate annual amount paid by such individual for such communications do not exceed $5,000.’

2. Paragraph (a)(3) of section 318 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 441d(a)(3)) is amended by adding at the end the following: `, except that no such statements shall be required in communications made over the Internet by an individual where the aggregate annual amount paid by such individual for such communications do not exceed $5,000.’

Whenever a political committee makes a disbursement for the purpose of financing any communication through any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising facility, mailing, or any other type of general public political advertising, or whenever any person makes a disbursement for the purpose of financing communications expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, or solicits any contribution through any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising facility, mailing, or any other type of general public political advertising or makes a disbursement for an electioneering communication (as defined in section 434 (f)(3) of this title), such communication—

(3) if not authorized by a candidate, an authorized political committee of a candidate, or its agents, shall clearly state the name and permanent street address, telephone number, or World Wide Web address of the person who paid for the communication and state that the communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee except that no such statements shall be required in communications made over the Internet by an individual where the aggregate annual amount paid by such individual for such communications do not exceed $5,000.’

SECTION 4. EXCLUSION OF INTERNET COMMUNICATIONS FROM POLITICAL COMMITTEE REQUIREMENTS.

Paragraph (4) of section 301 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431(4)) is amended by adding at the end the following: `(excluding expenditures up to an annual aggregate amount of $10,000 for Internet-related expenses such as expenses for Internet access and hosting services; creation of an Internet site; or creating, hosting, or participating in an online discussion using blogging or other software)'.

The term "political committee" means—

(A) any committee, club, association, or other group of persons which receives contributions aggregating in excess of $1,000 during a calendar year or which makes expenditures aggregating in excess of $1,000 during a calendar year; or

(B) any separate segregated fund established under the provisions of section 441b (b) of this title; or

(C) any local committee of a political party which receives contributions aggregating in excess of $5,000 during a calendar year, or makes payments exempted from the definition of contribution or expenditure as defined in paragraphs (8) and (9) aggregating in excess of $5,000 during a calendar year, or makes contributions aggregating in excess of $1,000 during a calendar year or makes expenditures aggregating in excess of $1,000 during a calendar year.

`(excluding expenditures up to an annual aggregate amount of $10,000 for Internet-related expenses such as expenses for Internet access and hosting services; creation of an Internet site; or creating, hosting, or participating in an online discussion using blogging or other software)'.

SECTION 5. INCLUSION OF ONLINE MEDIA PUBLICATIONS WITHIN THE NEWS MEDIA EXEMPTIONS.

Paragraph (9)(B)(i) of section 301 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431(9)(B)(i)) is amended by adding after the word "publication" the following: "or over the Internet".

The term "expenditure" does not include—

(i) any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication or over the Internet, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate;

...

Comments...

Benjamin Melançon: Decoding tricky legislation

Right on, Catherine. I hope others who have not looked at the legislative process can appreciate what this means for a democracy, and how important The NewStandard's deciphering the laws is.

In the years before the truly morally bankrupt bankruptcy bill became law, I got to see how much damage could be contained in changing a few words, meaningless out of context, devastating when passed.

The bill amends one section "by striking 'but not at the request or suggestion of' and inserting 'trustee, bankruptcy administrator, or'." To find out what this means, one has to look at the existing law: "the court, on its own motion or on a motion by the United States trustee, but not at the request or suggestion of any party in interest, may dismiss a case filed by an individual debtor". One realizes that where [originally] "any party of interest" is explicitly forbidden from contesting a person's application for bankruptcy, the proposed law would effectively read: "the court, on its own motion or on a motion by [...] any party of interest, may dismiss a case filed by an individual debtor."

Aside from resisting that bankruptcy law (if enough of us signed on, do you think the it could be effectively voided by the promise of jury nullification in bankruptcy cases?), anyone who has or is interested in writing software to help quickly display for the public (and reporters!) the kind piecing together of laws and proposed amendments that Catherine did, please, let me know or count me in.


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.