A Florida Republican filed a proposal this week that would require paid bloggers who write about elected officials to file periodic reports to the state of Florida.
The proposal, filed by Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Lake Mary, is the latest in a series of bills filed by Republicans ahead of the 2023 legislative session aimed at restricting the freedom of the press, First Amendment advocates say. Last month, Brodeur became the Senate sponsor of a bill aimed at making it easier for people to win defamation lawsuits against media organizations.
Brodeur’s Senate Bill 1316 — the bill requiring the registry of paid bloggers — defines “blog” as “a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content.” The bill excludes “the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.”
Those who are paid to write about elected officials in the Legislature or executive branch — the governor, lieutenant governor or Cabinet members — would have to file reports with the state offices that handle lobbying disclosures every month that they post.
The reports must include who paid the blogger for the post, and how much the blogger received, the bill says. Those that fail to report to the state can be fined $25 per day they are late, up to $2,500 per report.
In a text message, Brodeur wrote that he considers paid bloggers to be “lobbyists.”
When asked whether the bill would apply to journalists that write for online-only publications, Brodeur wrote, “If they’re paid to advocate a position on behalf of a special interest, yes.”
However, the bill does not single out bloggers paid by “special interests” — or by anyone else.
“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,” the bill reads.
Russell Cormican, a First Amendment lawyer based out of Fort Lauderdale, said the bill would inhibit political speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.
“This is absurd. It’s patently unconstitutional,” Cormican said. “You can’t have a system of registration with the state in order to criticize the government.”
When asked about this criticism, Brodeur wrote in a text message that his goal was to mandate the disclosure of “paid advocacy.”
“If we believe voters have the right to know who is paying for advocacy, let’s do it at all levels whether we are talking or writing,” he said.
Clay Calvert, a professor emeritus of law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said the bill is vague.
For example, the bill excludes those who contribute to the website of a newspaper or similar publication from registering, he noted. But what counts as a newspaper? What counts as a “similar publication”?
“The term ‘similar publication,’ that’s clearly vague and would likely be struck down” under the so-called “void for vagueness” doctrine, Calvert said.
That legal principle holds that a law can be struck down if it’s not clear enough, according to Cornell Law School.
The bill has no House sponsor.
In an email, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will “consider the merits of a bill in final form if and when it passes the Legislature.”
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