Subtitle: Your papers, please.
Subtitle: “We must believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai
Florida Senator Jason Brodeur has introduced legislation (2023 SB 1316) to, among other things, require bloggers who are compensated in any way for articles “about” certain state officials (including the governor) to register with the state and file regular reports.
Brodeur is a Republican (I know, I had you at “Florida Senator”). Brodeur’s background can be read here: https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/s10/?Tab=Personal He is not stupid, in the sense that he has earned a Master’s in Public Health from Dartmouth College. That can’t be easy. But, of course, we’ve learned that intelligence and high educational achievement do not necessarily produce rational or coherent politicians. See, e.g., Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.
Brodeur is a very busy guy – he has nine committee assignments. But he’s not too busy to propose a law that must have been copped from a first-year law school exam question: “draft a law that violates the First Amendment in at least ten ways.”
Brodeur’s brainchild legislation applies to bloggers who receive “anything of value” for posting blog pieces “about” Florida political leaders. “Blogger” means “any person as defined in s. 1.01(3) that submits a blog post to a blog which is subsequently published.” If the “anything of value” is not currency, then the term means the fair market value of the item or service received. The triggering action includes that the blogger has received or “will receive” compensation and thus requires registration even if the blogger has only been promised something of value, whether or not it is actually received later.
I have questions. First, what is “anything” in “anything of value?” Are “likes” posted in response to the blog post “anything of value?” How about readers’ reposts on other blogs? What if someone just sends me money as a “reward” for my bold reporting of the truth about Florida politicians? So many questions.
I could not find “s.1.01(3)” that the bill says contains the definition of “blogger.” Search and Advanced Search of Florida statutes turned up no documents. Search of the proposed bill for the definition – same, nada. But you can get there by additive analysis of the key operative language.
Missing, however, is any geographic limitation, leaving the question whether the bill’s authors intend it to apply to bloggers everywhere. I can’t wait. I’m going to send this post to the bill’s author and ask if I’m in violation. Come for me. Please. Pulleeesee come for me. I’ll be visiting Florida in a few weeks, so if you guys hurry, you can make me a violator while I ‘m there. While there, I plan to publish another blog post entitled, Governor DeathSantis – Herald for the Second Dark Age. I can reasonably guarantee that Hiz Honor, the Govnah isn’t going to like it.
Back to the merits. The Brodeur bill requires bloggers whose post is “about” an “elected state officer” or “mentions an elected state officer” to register with the state within five (5) days after the posting. An “elected state officer” includes the “Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.” Once registered, the blogger must file monthly reports, unless the blogger does not have “a blog post” on a blog during a given month. Presumably, “a blog post” refers to only those that “mention” an “elected state officer” in some way, but this is unclear.
No time limit for the reports can be found in the bill so presumably the filing requirement continues in perpetuity unless the blogger stops blogging about “elected state officers.” That, of course, is the point, isn’t it? To use the power of the state to suppress criticism of elected politicians.
But wait, there is more. The bill states exactly what must be reported:
- The individual or entity that compensated the blogger for the blog post.
- The amount of compensation, rounded to the nearest $10 increment, received from the individual or entity, regardless of how the compensation is structured.
- If the compensation is for a series of blog posts or for a defined period, the blogger must disclose the total amount to be received upon the first blog post being published. Thereafter, the monthly report must disclose the actual date(s) of additional compensation received for the series of posts.
- The date of publication of each post.
- The website and website address where the blog post can be found.
Late reports are subject to fines of $25 per day late subject to a maximum of $2,500 per report. Fines are paid into trust funds created by Florida law to fund the administration of lobbyist registrations, including salaries and other expenses and to pay expenses incurred by, for example, the state legislature in “providing services to lobbyists.” The state legislature provides “services to lobbyists?” What?
Thus, the underlying concept of this legislation is that blog posts “about,” say, a legislator are by legislative fiat, lobbying and are to be treated as such for purpose of fining late-filed reports. This is so even if the blog post is in no way related to attempts to influence legislation. A blog post “about” a state legislator might be an exposé of asserted corruption by the legislator, but if the blogger doesn’t file the report on time, her fines are to be paid into the legislative fund for managing lobbying registrations and the cost of services for lobbyists.
Brodeur was quoted in an interview claiming that people who write about the legislature are indistinguishable from lobbyists who talk to legislators. What? Do lobbyists in Florida openly criticize the legislators whose favor they’re seeking? Not likely. People who write critically about legislators (for present purposes, “bloggers”) are in no way similar to lobbyists who try to curry favor with legislators to get (or prevent) legislation.
Even Newt Gingrich has labeled this legislation “insane” and an “embarrassment.” Yes, it’s true. Even the Newtster thinks this legislation is nuts. He urged its withdrawal. https://bit.ly/3ZPeXYc Not likely. Your papers, please.
I will not waste more time on this nonsense. The notion that a state government can compel a compensated person (“anything of value”) who writes “about” the Governor or a legislator of the state to register and file reports is so blatantly a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that detailed analysis is unnecessary. Recall that Florida is among the leading states banning books about various aspects of American history that politicians don’t want anyone to read. If the Republicans in Florida have their way, the state will have justly earned renaming to Gilead.
Stay tuned for publication of Governor DeathSantis – Herald for the Second Dark Age. I will never register nor pay a dime in fines to Florida so ….