Right now there are three high profile contenders for the 2024 presidential race: current president Joe Biden, former president Donald Trump and potential GOP candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. While we all have a basic understanding of what to expect from Biden or Trump, DeSantis’s evolution into the public spotlight has been a controversial one at best. He kept the state largely open during 2020’s COVID spread, he mocked high school kids for wearing masks, he reduced Disney’s power in the state, and he backed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibiting early primary school educators from referring to homosexuality in the classroom. Depending on your political leanings, he either sounds like a nightmare or the savior of America. While he runs a campaign championing “conservative values,” he seems to be less inclined to promote free speech when it hurts him. With a new blogger bill being thrown around Florida right now, we are about to learn everything we need to know about DeSantis if it passes and if he’ll sign it into law.
Recently, Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) proposed a bill wanting bloggers who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and all other members of the Florida executive cabinet or legislature to register with the state or face fines up to $2,500.
WFLA.com, based in Florida, printed, “Brodeur’s proposal, Senate Bill 1316: Information Dissemination, would require any blogger writing about government officials to register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics.”
The article goes on to state, “Brodeur wrote that those who write ‘an article, a story, or a series of stories,’ about ‘the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature,’ and receives or will receive payment for doing so, must register with state offices within five days after the publication of an article that mentions an elected state official.”
Obviously, Brodeur is not familiar with a free press. One of the fundamental differences between America’s Founding Fathers and other countries’ leadership was their desire to allow people the right to print what they saw fit and worry about defamation later. Better to have a free press to keep politicians accountable than to have corruption go unchecked.
What has occurred, with the rise of Internet websites, is a modern circus of web-based news sites, Facebook postings and amateur writers creating a constant flow of content, and no one to hold any false claims accountable. Under the guise of “sources claim…” or “rumors have spread…” both the political left and the right have become streams of false news stories.
But Brodeur’s hot take on these writers is completely off. He told the news magazine Florida Politics that online bloggers are effectively “professional electioneers.” He went on to ask, “If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn’t paid bloggers?”
While having some form of regulation seems fair or pragmatic on one level, the bill goes hard on those who wouldn’t want to comply. WFLA.com reported, “Failure to file these disclosures or register with state officials, if the bill passes, would lead to daily fines for the bloggers, with a maximum amount per report, not per writer, of $2,500. The per-day fine is $25 per report for each day it’s late.”
The fundamental problem with the bill is associating the press with “professional electioneers.” That would be like calling movie critics “professional marketers.” Reporting and lobbyists are two different beasts. Lobbyists and campaign managers are going into the public square to announce what the plan is if elected. Bloggers then analyze and try to preach to their choir how they should feel about it.
At the heart of this bill is the GOP trying to regulate free speech and keep tabs on those with differing opinions. For a party against having Second Amendment registrations, you would think First Amendment registration would be off the table as well. In some ways this is the “Don’t Say DeSantis” bill.
While it will take a while to get to DeSantis’s desk, this will be a defining moment for the future star of the Republican Party. While the woke wing of the left wants to ban hateful speech on social media and many want laws that protect gender pronoun usage, the GOP is either the party of free speech or the party of tracking and regulating free speech.
In a few weeks we’ll see if DeSantis passes the test or becomes part of the bigger problem.