Building the Web

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While we work to give Congress a chance to run for office without taking big money, other tools have made it easier for ordinary voters to jump into the political fray and take on the entrenched powers that enjoy such influence on our elections. Adam Bonin, an attorney who specializes in the intersection of politics and the internet, writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the importance of keeping the internet open as a channel of open, civic participation.

Money does talk, so a lot of the attention given to the growth in internet organizing comes from the success that several presidential candidates (particularly Ron Paul and Barack Obama) have had in online fundraising. But the power of web-based political discourse extends well beyond its ability to make money:

In a world in which a major defense contractor owns a massive television network and foreign-born plutocrats such as Rupert Murdoch hold enormous influence over various forms of media, why worry about bloggers? But more to the point, the cost-free speech and unlimited bandwidth of the Internet meant that any such toxins could be immediately and effectively rebutted by ordinary Americans.

The core purpose underlying campaign finance law is to constrain the influence of large sums of money on the market for political speech. Television and radio provide expensive and limited means of reaching the masses, and the wealthy can effectively crowd out other speakers in these realms. They can't online.

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[W]hat we've actually seen has been positive. The Obama campaign has leveraged the Internet to turn a geographically dispersed volunteer base into a nationwide, home-based phone bank, empowering supporters to make crucial get-out-the-vote calls to targeted Super Tuesday precincts. John Edwards' campaign allowed ordinary Americans to prepare their own campaign ads, one of which on rural issues ended up airing in Oklahoma.