Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill would require bloggers to register with the state
March 8, 2023 by David Silverberg
Updated, Sunday March 12 with new contact information for Sen. Jason Brodeur.
A Florida bill requiring bloggers to register with the state if they cover or comment on the governor, Cabinet officers or state legislators is sparking alarm and outrage.
It needs to be stopped and bloggers in Florida and around the world should immediately raise their voices against it.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-10-Seminole and Orange counties).
Titled “An Act Relating to Information Dissemination” (Senate Bill (SB) 1316), the bill was filed on Feb. 28 in advance of the state legislature’s general session. It was referred to three committees for consideration: the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and the Committee on Fiscal Policy.
The Florida legislature convened yesterday, March 7, for a 60-day session during which the bill may be considered.
(Editor’s Note: The Paradise Progressive and this author have a clear and obvious interest in this bill and its consideration. Nonetheless, that interest does not preclude factual coverage, analysis or commentary of the bill, its sponsor or its progress. The Paradise Progressive, which is supported by its author and reader donations, will continue to provide coverage, analysis and commentary on politics, especially related to the governance, representation and elections of Southwest Florida and the state as a whole as long as the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights continue in force in Florida and the United States generally.)
The bill has two parts. (The full bill as introduced is available for download at the conclusion of this article.)
The first part has nothing to do with blogging. It amends an existing law for court sales of property (“judicial sales”), usually to pay debts in bankruptcy cases, so that the sale is posted on the Web for a specified time period. The second non-blogging clause establishes conditions and procedures for government publication of legally required notices.
It is in its third, entirely new, section that it tackles blogging.
As with all legislation, it first defines its terms.
A “blog” “means a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content. The term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.” A “blogger” is anyone submitting “a blog post to a blog.” A “blog post” is defined as “an individual webpage on a blog which contains an article, a story, or a series of stories.”
(Just for historical context, the word “blog” is a contraction of “Web log” that took hold in the early 1990s as the Internet gained popularity.)
It defines “Elected state officer” as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.
The key provision of the bill is in its second section: “If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.”
The two offices mentioned in the paragraph are the Office of Legislative Services and the Commission on Ethics. If a blogger mentions a member of the legislature, the blogger reports to the first office; if the blogger mentions an executive branch official the report is to the second.
Under the legislation, once registered, the blogger must file a monthly report within 10 days of the end of the month, with exceptions for weekends and holidays.
The reports have to include the person or entity that paid for the blog post and how much the blogger was paid (rounded to the nearest $10) as well as the website and website address where it was posted.
If the reports are not filed on time the blogger is subject to a fine of $25 per day that has to be paid within 30 days of being assessed. If the blog post was about a member of the legislature, the money goes into the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund; if about an executive branch official, the Executive Branch Lobby Registration Trust Fund. If about both, then the payment goes to both. Bloggers can get a one-time waiver of the first fine but must report within 30 days of the first infraction.
Bloggers can appeal their fines and the bill sets out the procedures for such appeals through the courts. However, if the blogger doesn’t pay a fine within 100 days, he or she is subject to court action.
This law takes effect upon passage.
“Do you want to know the truth about the so-called ‘blogger’ bill?” a defensive-sounding Brodeur wrote in a March 5 tweet. “It brings the current pay-to-play scheme to light and gives voters clarity as to who is influencing their elected officials, JUST LIKE how we treat lobbyists. It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”
He elaborated in a 1-minute, 48-second video interview with the Florida’s Conservative Voice blog posted to Twitter.
The clip posted by Brodeur started in response to a question. It bears quoting in full.
“The biggest thing that you pointed out is, it is for—only for—bloggers who are paid, compensated to influence or advocate on state elections. And this is really to get an electioneering thing and perhaps, I’m even open to it, even in the wrong place in the statute, because what we have out there today is a system by which someone can pay someone to write a story, publish it online and then use that in a mail piece as a site source when they’re making claims about an opponent. So what we want, is we want voters to be able to know—you can still do it, that is a mechanism by which candidates advertise. You can still do it, we just believe that voters have a right to know when somebody is being paid to advocate, like lobbyists. And so, if you believe, that we should have a state registry of lobbyists, so everybody knows who is trying to influence who, what is the difference between a paid blogger who writes about state government or a paid lobbyist who advocates for state government? One talks and one writes. And so my position on it would really be: ‘So look, listen, we’ll just get rid of the lobbying registration, then?’ Either way, I want to be consistent because if you’re being paid to advocate a position the public should be able to know who’s being paid and make a decision for themselves. So that’s all we’re trying to clean up, is really an electioneering issue.
“Now, what I think the media is getting wrong about it is—you know, I’ve gotten phone calls all day long about it, from Seattle to New York, literally—where people are going: ‘I hate you and you’re trying to ruin free speech, this is how Germany got everything wrong’—no, no, no, this is not a free speech issue, it’s a transparency issue and electioneering. It’s—so all I’m trying to do is say, ‘Treat paid bloggers just like you treat lobbyists.’ That’s it.”
Brodeur may be particularly sensitive to hostile blogging and media coverage and especially hidden funding because his initial, razor-thin 2020 election was clouded by the presence of a “ghost candidate,” a non-party-affiliated candidate whose campaign was secretly funded by the Republican Party in an effort to siphon votes from the Democrat.
As detailed in the Nov. 4, 2022 article “Ghost of 2020 hangs over Jason Brodeur, Joy Goff-Marcil contest in SD 10,” by Jacob Ogles on the website Florida Politics, the ghost candidate, Jestine Iannotti, sent misleading mailers to voters bearing a stock photo of a black woman and succeeded in gaining 5,787 votes.
That was enough for Brodeur to win a squeaker of a victory over his opponent, Democrat Patricia Sigman, by a hairsbreadth 7,644 votes.
As Ogles wrote: “This year, prosecutors brought charges against Iannotti, consultant Eric Foglesong and Seminole County Republican Party Chair Ben Paris, who notably works for Brodeur at his day job running the Seminole Chamber of Commerce.
“Paris was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge in September, and both Iannotti and former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg both told investigators Brodeur knew about or was expected to support her candidacy. Brodeur has denied any knowledge of the scheme,” the article stated.
So apparently, when Brodeur discusses pay-to-play schemes and hidden funding, he knows whereof he speaks.
Reception and denunciation
The instant Brodeur’s bill came to light it attracted national media attention—and denunciation.
One of the first and most prominent people to react was former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is currently a retired resident of Naples, Fla.
“The idea that bloggers criticizing a politician should register with the government is insane,” Gingrich tweeted on Sunday, March 5. “It is an embarrassment that it is a Republican state legislator in Florida who introduced a bill to that effect. He should withdraw it immediately.”
Brodeur’s bill didn’t get any love from the governor it might ostensibly protect, either.
Asked about the bill in a press conference following his State of the State address yesterday, March 7, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) distanced himself from the proposal.
“That’s not anything that I’ve ever supported. I don’t support it, I’ve been very clear about what we are doing,” DeSantis said.
He noted that “every person in the legislature can file bills” and “the Florida legislature, 120 of them in the House and however many, the 40 in the Senate, they have independent agency to be able to do things,” he said. “Like, I don’t control every single bill that has been filed or amendment, so just as we go through this session, please understand that.”
Uncounted and likely uncountable were the denunciations of the bill in online comments, tweets, postings and phone calls “from Seattle to New York” as Brodeur himself put it.
The National Review magazine, the venerable voice of conservative political reasoning, weighed in with a stinging headline that needed no elaboration: “Senator Jason Brodeur Is a Moron, but He’s a Solo Moron.”
“The bill is an unconstitutional, moronic disgrace, and the guy who wrote it, Senator Jason Brodeur of Seminole County, is an embarrassment to the GOP,” wrote Charles Cooke on March 2.
Other than Brodeur himself, defense of the bill was hard to come by, either online or as covered in the media.
Commentary: Putin would be proud
There are so many arguments to be made against SB 1316 that it’s hard to know where to begin.
SB 1316 is a clear and obvious attempt to suppress free speech in the state of Florida. It doesn’t just violate the First Amendment, it violates both its free speech and free press clauses.
In fact, Brodeur’s bill most closely resembles Russia’s “blogger’s law,” passed in 2014 and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. That law requires any blogger with 3,000 or more followers to register with Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media oversight agency.
In American history it also harks back to the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime for American citizens to “print, utter, or publish…any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the government. That law, along with Alien Acts aimed against immigrants, was largely directed against the new Democratic-Republican Party and Democratic-Republican newspapers were prosecuted under it. When Thomas Jefferson won the election of 1800 the acts were repealed or allowed to lapse and those prosecuted were pardoned. The whole period is considered a dark stain in American history and is often overlooked (and no doubt will never be taught in Florida schools).
SB 1316 walks in these notorious footsteps. Not only would it have a chilling effect on free speech, if it were to pass it would immediately be challenged in court where even a legal layman can see that it would lose.
But aside from railing against the bill itself, let’s take Brodeur at his own words that “It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”
What Brodeur clearly doesn’t understand is that in a democracy every citizen has a right to electioneer and influence government, whether in person, in print or online. Brodeur apparently doesn’t see it this way. He thinks that advocacy occurs only among a paid lobbying class and that citizens expressing their opinions online are part of that class and need to be registered and regulated, regardless of the source of their funding.
He also doesn’t seem to understand the broader implications of his bill. At its most basic level it would give the state government a mechanism to suppress blogs—and all opinions—it didn’t like. This would apply to blogs and bloggers whether liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican.
It would be nearly impossible to police and enforcement would be intrusive, unconstitutional and expensive. Even if intended only for paid bloggers, the bill’s restrictions would ineluctably affect all blogs on all topics. It would affect blogs used for commercial, non-profit or simply informative purposes, stuntng legitimate commerce and obstructing myriad blog-based enterprises.
Brodeur seems not to understand that he introduced his bill at a moment when people fear that civil liberties and democracy in his state are under unprecedented assault. In Florida a Republican super-majority state house has begun a session in which each legislator is scrambling to prove him or herself more ideologically extreme than the competition. A former president who incited an anti-government insurrection is fighting for a comeback. The governor, effectively running for president on an extreme right platform, is at war with the national media and explicitly wants to overturn the landmark 1964 New York Times versus Sullivan case. Bills are being introduced to make defamation suits against the media easier and the state is emerging as a laboratory for repression, reaction and regression.
Into this state house full of flammable fumes Brodeur casually tossed the match of SB 1316. Did he or any other carbon-based life form imagine that there wouldn’t be an explosion of fear, outrage and alarm? Apparently not.
Beyond its political implications, SB 1316 reveals Brodeur as a singularly inept politician, someone unable to think through the full consequences of a proposal on a policy, political or constitutional level. He clearly thought through the procedural and punitive aspects of his legislation but beyond that narrow vista he had no perspective. Moreover, he appears to lack an understanding of democracy, freedom and advocacy—as well as a simple ability to read the room.
He shouldn’t be surprised that people are calling “from Seattle to New York” to oppose his bill.
Editorial: To the keyboards, bloggers!
It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t just an obscure proposal in what appears to be the increasingly insane state of Florida. If passed, it would set up a government mechanism to suppress online independent thought and the expression of opinion, which could then be applied nationally, especially if DeSantis wins the presidency in 2024. That, in turn could become a global template for Internet censorship and repression.
If Brodeur doesn’t have the good sense to withdraw his bill, it should be defeated. Every blogger who loves freedom can play a role—not just in Florida but everywhere from Singapore to San Francisco, Seattle to Saint Petersburg.
At the very least, people should make their opinions known to the key Florida legislators on the referred committees who have received this bill.
This is one case when the flap of a butterfly’s wings really could bring on a hurricane.
Sen. Jason Brodeur himself can be reached by e-mail through his offcial website, https://flsenate.gov/senators/s10 and clicking the e-mail button in the left column. He can also be reached by phone at his Tallahassee office at (850) 487-5010, at his district office at (407) 333-1802 and at his campaign office by phone or text at 1-407-752-0258.
Other senators can be reached by going to the Florida websites and clicking on the “Email this senator” button in the left-hand column:
Senate Judiciary Committee
- Chair: Sen. Clay Yarborough (R)
- Democratic member: Sen. Lauren Book (D)
Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice
- Chair: Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R)
- Vice Chair: Sen. Bobby Powell (D)
Committee on Fiscal Policy
- Chair: Sen. Travis Hutson (R)
- Vice Chair: Sen. Linda Stewart (D)
A 9-page PDF of the submitted bill can be downloaded here.
Liberty lives in light
© 2023 by David Silverberg