Are reporters lobbyists?

What part of the First Amendment don’t government officials get? On some days, most of it.

In Broward County, Florida, a mayor says reporters for a local newspaper have to register as lobbyists, the Sun Sentinel reports. At issue is a county code of ethics and Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan’s interpretation of it in an email to a reporter.

Though reporters do not necessarily consider what they do is lobbying, their work is provided to the editors who use their research to write editorials. Editors do try to influence the final decision making indirectly (which is communication by an means) which is lobbying according to the new law as I see it. It is this understanding that your research will be used in lobbying activities by editors that pay you, that I believe may include reporters in as lobbyist. I just don’t want to risk the situation.

The mayor in this case certainly has the right not to talk to the media, but once reporters are required to register as lobbyists, they subject themselves to regulations and that’s the part that probably runs afoul of the Constitution.

No matter to many of the commenters on the paper’s site, most of whom invoke a political angle and prove again that many people are willing to defend the constitution right up to the point where it becomes politically distasteful to do so.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, a federal prosecutor is threatening “going after” newspapers, radio and TV stations because of ads they’re running for illegal marijuana operations in a state that has legalized medicinal use of marijuana.

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting

Federal law prohibits people from placing ads for illegal drugs, including marijuana, in “any newspaper, magazine, handbill or other publication.” The law could conceivably extend to online ads; the U.S. Department of Justice recently extracted a $500 million settlement from Google for selling illegal ads linking to online Canadian pharmacies.

Duffy said her effort against TV, radio or print outlets would first include “going after these folks with … notification that they are in violation of federal law.” She noted that she also has the power to seize property or prosecute in civil and criminal court.

William G. Panzer, an attorney who specializes in marijuana defense cases, said publishers may have a reason to worry. Federal law singles out anyone who “places” an illegal ad in a newspaper or publication. Nevertheless, Panzer said he is not aware of a single appellate case dealing with this section of the law.

“Technically, if I’m running the newspaper and somebody gives me money and says, ‘Here’s the ad,’ I’m the one who is physically putting the ad in my newspaper,” he said. “I think this could be brought against the actual newspaper. Certainly, it’s arguable, but the statute is not entirely clear on that.”

Duffy, if she carries out her threat, would have a leg to stand on where TV and radio stations are concerned. TV/radio, regulated by the government, doesn’t enjoy 1st Amendment protections that extent to an unregulated newspaper industry. But prosecuting a newspaper on the basis of content — even advertising content — might invite a constitutional challenge.

In this case, the law against placing illegal ads is equating the person placing the illegal ad with the organizations — mostly alt-weeklies — accepting it.

The even larger issue, of course, is a federal government essentially targeting a state’s decision to legalize marijuana.

  • jon

    on the topic of legalized marijuana, isn’t there a tenth amendment concern?

    unless I missed the part of the constitution that allows for the federal government to regulate interstate production and consumption… not that what the constitution actually says matters so much as how the supreme court is deciding to interpret it, and that interpretation seems to get pretty shady at times…

  • Jon

    actually I just googled “legalized marijuana and tenth amendment”

    Seems like there is lots of opinions about this already… and the FCC that regulates the TV and Radio broadcasters you talk about in the article…

    reading more on some of those sites suggests to me that the federal government is regularly violating the tenth amendment, and no one is stopping to question them on it…

    even more frightening is the desire for republicans to undo health care and give that control back to the states, lines up with that particular part of the constitution, though Ron Paul is probably the only one who would say the constitution has anything to do with his reasoning for that…

  • Jim Shapiro

    President Mandacity’s Justice Department has just issued medicinal cannabis distribution centers in California with orders to shut down, with felony charges and property confiscation resulting from non-compliance.

    Hmmm. Somebody trying to show voters that they aren’t really that much of a dreaded liberal after all?