The FEC and Blogs
Jeff Tuttle has an interesting article in the BDN today on the possibility of increased regulation of the internet in the interests of campaign finance reform. I am quoted in the article and so is Simon Dodd of OlympiaSnowe2008.com.
...mainepolitics.blogspot.com - and thousands of similar sites around the country - could be forced to undergo drastic changes resulting from a federal judge's ruling that campaign finance laws should be extended to the Internet.
The changes, which will be considered by the Federal Election Commission this month, potentially could mean fines to sites that improperly link to official campaign sites or forward candidates' press releases to its members.
While the threat of this kind of draconian regulation is scary, it doesn't seem to be a very likely scenario. The whole hubbub over this issue began when Bradley Smith, a hard-right republican FEC commissioner and opponent of McCain-Feingold gave an interview with CNet news and laid out a vision of the future in which forwarding an email from a political campaign to your friends would be an illegal contribution.
The Campaign Legal Center, a public interest group focusing on campaign and media regulations responded with a press release yesterday titled "Setting the Record Straight: There is No FEC Threat to the Internet".
Commissioner Brad Smith claimed that as a result of new campaign laws and and a recent court decision, online news organizations and bloggers may soon wake up to find their activities regulated by government bureaucrats. That would indeed be troubling, if it were true. Fortunately, Mr. Smith - an avowed opponent of most campaign finance regulation - is simply wrong.
The issue the FEC - and the courts - are grappling with is how to deal with online political ads by candidates and parties, and with paid advertising that is coordinated with those groups. As the Internet becomes a vital new force in politics, we are simply going through a natural transition as we work out how, and when, to apply longstanding campaign finance principles - designed to fight corruption - to political expenditures on the Web. Mr. Smith has advocated an extreme position that politicians, parties and outside groups can pay for Internet advertising with "soft money" - unlimited, unregulated checks from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. A federal court rightly rejected that position, saying that the new ban on soft money in our elections obviously applies to Internet advertising, too.
These laws are decidedly NOT aimed at online press, commentary or blogs, and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was carefully drafted to exclude them.
MyDD has a more in-depth discussion here.
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