Las Vegas Review-Journal
Gingrich joins critics blasting Florida senator’s blogger bill
A Republican state senator defended his controversial bill to require Florida bloggers to register with the government as the backlash against it intensified, with former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich calling it “insane.”
The bill from state Sen. Jason Brodeur, filed for consideration in the session that begins today, would require a written record of whether a blogger is being paid to write an online post about the governor, another Florida Cabinet official, or a state legislator, as well as who pays them. Under the proposal, bloggers would be fined $25 a day, up to $2,500, if they fail to provide the information.
Gingrich, who has praised Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and backed most of the Republican’s agenda, railed against Brodeur’s bill on Twitter on Sunday.
“The idea that bloggers criticizing a politician should register with the government is insane,” Gingrich wrote. “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.”
Gingrich could not be reached for comment Monday.
The bill specifically excludes those who write for “the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.” But the sweeping language of the bill has no stated exemption for online-only outlets or TV networks, leading critics to argue any nonprint journalist in the country could be forced to register.
Brodeur’s proposal immediately drew condemnation from journalists and advocacy groups including the Florida First Amendment Foundation, whose executive director, Bobby Block, compared the bill to similar laws in “apartheid South Africa, the countries behind the Iron Curtain, the USSR, Zaire, Burkina Faso, and socialist Ethiopia.”
A 2014 Russian law signed by President Vladimir Putin known as the “blogger’s law” also required bloggers with more than 3,000 readers to register with the Roskomnadzor, the country’s agency for media oversight.
Sarah Rumpf, an Orlando journalist with the New Yorkbased website Mediaite, posted a picture of the U.S. Constitution on Twitter, with the caption, “Here’s my documentation needed to write about Desantis, (Attorney General Ashley) Moody, Brodeur, or any elected official.”
Rumpf said the bill’s broad language targeting any “website or
webpage that hosts any blogger” that isn’t affiliated with a newspaper could be construed to include herself and almost any nonprint journalist in the country.
“Considering the way that they’ve tried to enforce junk like this, I have no faith that I would be magically exempt,” Rumpf said. “I’ve been very outspoken criticizing the governor … and I have no interest in putting my name and information on some public records list so that people who don’t like me criticizing the governor can track me down and get mad that I’m getting paid to write.”
Rumpf added that on the “rare chance” the bill passed, “and I say rare chance because they’ve passed a lot of stuff that I would have thought was ridiculous and unconstitutional … I will be publicly declaring that I am happy to be the plaintiff for the ACLU or whichever First Amendment group wants to come forward and challenge this thing.”
Juliet Jeske, a research associate at the Tow-knight Center News Integrity Initiative at the City University of New York, also wrote she was eager to challenge the law.
Jeske wrote on her Decoding Fox News account on Twitter, “This makes me want to move to Florida and start a blog called ‘I’m going to write about Ron Desantis and Ashley Moody’ and then just type their names hundreds of times like I was in ‘The Shining,’ just so I could sue them over this and win.”
Block said he was continually surprised by the “cascade” of controversial bills from the Florida Legislature.
“It’s kind of like watching figure skaters loop further and further out onto thin ice,” Block said. “And every time they loop out, and you’re in the audience and you go, ‘Oh, my God, they can’t, they’re not going to do that again,’ they loop out even further.
“And it just boggles the mind … other than seeing it as an attempt to undo 60 years of legal precedent, and 200 years of First Amendment protection.”
In a Twitter post Sunday, Brodeur, a Republican from Sanford, Fla., wrote that the “so-called ‘blogger’ bill” was “an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”
“It brings the current pay-toplay scheme to light and gives voters clarity as to who is influencing their elected officials, JUST LIKE how we treat lobbyists,” Brodeur wrote.
His bill specifically compares bloggers with lobbyists, with any fines incurred going into the same two state funds where lobbyists’ penalties go.
Brodeur did not respond to a request for an interview Monday to seek specific examples of bloggers his bill would cover.
Brodeur has been under intense media scrutiny because of the involvement of “ghost” candidate Jestine Iannotti in the 2020 state Senate election in which he defeated Democrat Patricia Sigman. Iannotti’s campaign was bolstered by an advertising blitz coordinated by GOP operatives. Brodeur has denied any involvement in the scheme.
In 2019, Brodeur’s Senate campaign paid $37,000 to two companies operated by blogger Jacob Engels.
Engels had written for Alex Jones’ website Infowars and has appeared at rallies and events with the Proud Boys, the self-described “Western chauvinist” organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brodeur deferred comment on Engels at the time.
The bill is the second the senator filed last week aimed at the media.
His other one, SB1220, would make it easier to sue journalists by automatically presuming information from anonymous sources to be false and preventing journalists from shielding the identity of sources.
That bill has also been slammed by First Amendment groups, with the nonprofit organization Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression calling it “not just unconstitutional (but) fundamentally un-american.”
The measures come as Desantis has made “legacy media” a target for the session in Tallahassee, where the GOP has supermajorities in both chambers. The governor has repeatedly clashed with reporters during his tenure, and Brodeur’s bill would presumably make it more difficult to criticize him and other elected officials.