Regardless of your position on the rightness or wrongness of the BCRA or the Supreme Court's decision upholding even its most controversial provisions, the fact is that a new regimen has been set up, a whole new system of rules that political consultants and lawyers must play by.
It's all about hard money now, and a great way to raise hard money – as the Dean campaign has shown – is on the Internet. The way the army of Dean bloggers funnels eyeballs to the main Dean site (and where eager eyeballs go, so hard dollars follow) is pretty impressive. But it’s probably a trifle compared to what could be done on the Internet once serious resources on invested.
Large corporations and interest groups – whose desire to influence the outcomes of elections remain unchanged, regardless of the BCRA and the Supreme Court ruling – will simply adjust to the new reality. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on last minute ads, they will have to seek out independent Internet groups and solo consultants and operators of various kind to create the Internet equivalent of a last minute issue ad. Make no mistake: the total amount of money that will be spent will remain the same, only now some of it will be spent online instead of on television.
One could argue that this is a natural progression. Any blogger or blog reading fanatic could tell you that television is becoming less rather than more relevant every day, and the online world is where the future is. Thus, according to this view, the BCRA and the Supreme Court’s ruling only legitimizes and accelerates an existing phenomenon.
I recognize of course that at the present time even the most popular bloggers or websites do not obtain a fraction of the attention of the citizenry as say a popular television show does. Clearly, paid television ads get the message out in front of far more people, instantly, than any other medium, presently.
But when you look at the numbers more closely, in terms of actual voters as opposed to mere television watchers, the differences becomes arguably a little less dramatic. And unlike television viewers, the number of people reading and participating online is still growing rapidly.
In short, this opinion accelerates the process of bringing big money politics online. I would not be surprised to see top bloggers and websites approached by corporate and organizational money in the coming months. Glenn Reynolds has stated that he has already been approached by someone to ghost write an editorial. Any blogger could potentially be a paid shill for a political candidate and nobody would know. Nothing in law would require them to disclose their status as such.
There is one obvious and immediate counter argument to all of this: one could argue that given the present power law distributions within the Internet (a handful of speakers enjoying vastly more traffic than all the other speakers combined) any attempt at paying off one of the top speakers would be transparent. But there's the rub: an organization would not need to pay off the top speaker, they could easily pay very small amounts to a thousand little speakers and get a buzz going that would mimic the look and feel of a true grassroots movement but for a fraction of the cost of a single issue ad. In other words, widely distributing monies that previously went to one big last minute television push could end up proving more effective.