Florida State Sen. Jason Brodeur filed legislation this week that would effectively force any blogger that writes about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, or any member of the Florida Cabinet or Legislature, to file registration paperwork with the state—or face fines.
This would effectively force independent journalists to go through a similar process as paid lobbyists—who are retained by corporations and other entities with the specific purpose of influencing lawmaking.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1316, is the latest apparent effort by DeSantis and his allies to stifle any sort of opposition within the state. Florida’s GOP, which has grown accustomed to unchecked one-party rule, has long-sought to create a culture of conformity laced with fear around the state government.
Florida’s 60-day legislative session kicks off on Tuesday, and this is one of a number of ludicrous and incredibly dangerous pieces of legislation that have been filed as the GOP enjoys a supermajority in both House and Senate for the first time in the state’s history.
Brodeur told Florida Politics that online bloggers are effectively “professional electioneers.”
“If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn’t paid bloggers?” he asked.
This quote shows Brodeur has a very clear misunderstanding of the role of a free press and the First Amendment, but that’s increasingly par for the senator’s course after a scandal-plagued tenure in the Legislature.
Last fall, while facing a difficult re-election campaign in an increasingly Democratic area of Central Florida, Brodeur, whose time in office has been embroiled in scandal, turned to attacking The Orlando Sentinel as a means to fundraise.
But this rhetoric doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Under DeSantis, Florida has turned increasingly authoritarian while he openly touts “freedom” as his mantra. DeSantis has continuously pushed the envelope as to what he can get away with.
In February, DeSantis became the latest Republican to mount an attack on defamation laws. DeSantis hosted a panel discussion on libel, which featured conservative legal minds who were clearly seeking novel ways to weaken the mainstream press.
The landmark 1964 decision in New York Times v Sullivan set the current high bar for public officials to sue the media, making it extremely difficult for them to win lawsuits. But Republicans in the Florida statehouse, led by Rep. Alex Andrade, also proposed a bill earlier this year to lower the bar on who is considered a public figure—as well as a lowered bar on what qualifies as defamation in the first place—effectively making it much easier for them to sue reporters.
With an increasingly gagged media, and fewer resources at major newspapers, DeSantis has been remarkably successful in avoiding the sort of scrutiny he would have had just a decade ago in the same office.
In many ways, despite his rhetoric, DeSantis’ recent behavior looks more Stalinist than anything else. He promotes one-party rule and authoritarian measures to crack down on dissent—for example, just this week Sen. Blaise Ingolia, a key DeSantis ally who is the former chair of the state’s Republican Party, filed legislation that would effectively eliminate the Florida Democratic Party.
It has been increasingly clear for a year or more that DeSantis looks abroad, to the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán for inspiration. In Orbán, we observe a right-wing figure who mixes ethnocentric and religious hues with strict authoritarianism and a crackdown on a free press.
This is precisely how Governor DeSantis is proceeding as he seeks to win the 2024 GOP Presidential nomination, wrestling it away from former President Trump, who, while sharing DeSantis’ authoritarian thirst, doesn’t quite have the discipline or competence (or desire?) to go the full Orbán route.
Ironically, beyond the Rupert Murodch owned-media entities, the narrative promoting DeSantis’ potential Presidential run is being largely fueled by a small set of GOP-leaning bloggers. These bloggers are the ones DeSantis uses frequently to break stories, shape narratives and get out his message. The websites include The Florida Standard, The Floridian and The Florida Voice, all entities with little or no long-term involvement in covering Florida government and elections. Most have popped up in recent years in conjunction with DeSantis’ rise to power. These entities would presumably be exempted from disclosure under Broduer’s legislation, because rather than acting as a watchdog they lavish praise on the governor.
Florida in 2023 has become a cultural battleground in addition to a laboratory for the GOP to implement a vision of authoritarian government previously unseen in this country—at least since Woodrow Wilson’s crackdown on a free press during World War I. It’s ironic that DeSantis, who fancies himself as a Constitutional scholar and a defender of Federalism, is likely to support something that very clearly will run afoul of the First Amendment.
But those of us who live in Florida and cover state government long ago learned that DeSantis, for all his purported ideological zeal, is a master of projection. This is likely just another example of DeSantis throwing red meat to his base, while achieving the goal of stifling dissent in the process. This will all be accomplished while he continues to tout himself as a champion of “freedom,” and promote the state as “the free state of Florida.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Daily Beast