The town of Oro Valley, Ariz., has backed off a demand that a 71-year-old resident register his blog as a political action committee after he used it to endorse two candidates who were running against incumbents.
A number of attorneys in Arizona, including Clint Bolik with the Goldwater Institute, agreed the town was completely out of line and that Art Segal, whose blog, www.letorovalleyexcel.blogspot.com, is often critical of local government policies and activities, is well within his First Amendment rights to support of any local candidate.
Bloggers such as Segal are not required to register with the government to express an opinion unless they cross the boundary into financial support, Bolick told the Arizona Daily Star.
"His blog is not a political action committee," the attorney said. "He is simply a citizen expressing his political views."
The clear intent of the town was to silence political opposition, Bolick said.
Oro Valley changed its mind after awkwardly defending the move, claiming that, upon receiving a complaint about the site from an anonymous citizen, local election law required it to demand Segal register. Yet one check of the rules and officials would have learned that they don't apply to bloggers.
What's good is that, in the end, it's another case where Internet blogging is afforded First Amendment protections. Blogging is a legitimate form of journalism and commentary. There have been more organized attempts to silence bloggers by attempting to argue that they are not truly "media" of not "professional journalists." Witness Apple's lawsuit to close down Think Secret, which excelled at doing exactly what I and my one-time Electronic News colleagues were encouraged to do week after week–scoop insider company and product news. Apple "won" that suit by succeeding in closing the site. Or was it simply that Nicholas Ciarelli, who as a 13-year-old had Apple's PR people tearing their out, grew up and had other things to do, like attend Harvard, reportedly with some cash from the Apple settlement?
So, on some level, it's gratifying to see a town's attempt at blogger intimidation turn out to be acknowledged for the petty power play it was.
The whole affair left Segal – who said he has given no money to the candidates he endorsed months before hearing from the town – with a bad taste in his mouth.
The resources that town officials spent trying to strong-arm him into compliance would have been better used to address issues important to Oro Valley residents, he said. "It's just another example of the wastefulness that this town has shown a propensity to do on much too many occasions," Segal said.