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Mo. political blog gets FEC press exemption

By The Associated Press
12.02.05

WASHINGTON — Roy Temple has worn many hats in his career as a savvy Democratic political operative in Missouri. But he has never been known as a journalist — until now.

In a controversial decision last month, the Federal Election Commission granted Temple's political weblog a press exemption from the law on reporting campaign finance activity.

The commission said expenses for news stories, editorials and other commentary on the Web site, FiredUpMissouri.com, aren't considered expenditures or contributions under campaign-finance law, regardless of its partisan views.

"I think it's an important victory for free-speech advocates," said Temple, who served as chief of staff to former Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., and was chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party. "I view the expansion of the Internet in the political discourse as an important civic space."

Campaign-finance reform groups have attacked the decision, saying partisan political groups shouldn't be treated like the press. They point to Fired Up's statement to the FEC that it intends "to endorse, expressly advocate and urge readers to donate funds to the election of Democratic candidates" for federal, state and local office.

"Last time I looked, press institutions aren't in the business of raising money for candidates," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign-watchdog group in Washington that submitted comments opposing Fired Up's request.

"We object to this being framed as a press exemption where you have groups that are affirmatively stating that one of their major purposes is to support and raise money for candidates," Wertheimer said.

Since Temple co-founded the site in March with Carnahan and a computer consultant, it has earned a reputation for withering attacks on Republican officials in the state and in Congress.

The site regularly mocks Republican Gov. Matt Blunt (a recent headline: "On the road again: Is Matt Blunt gladhanding with lobbyists, again?") and lampoons his father, the U.S. House majority leader, as "Roy Blunt (R-K Street)."

Entries on the site are a combination of original content and links to news articles and Web sites. Guest editorials are written by Carnahan, former Sen. Tom Eagleton, D-Mo., and other Democratic luminaries.

In its unanimous opinion on Nov. 17, the five-member FEC said a Web site does not lose eligibility for the press exemption even if the commentary clearly advocates the election of candidates for federal office.

This week, two FEC members — chairman Scott Thomas and commissioner Danny Lee McDonald — issued a concurring opinion saying "only time will truly tell whether Fired Up is actually a media entity, or an entity controlled by a candidate or political party."

That is just the concern raised by critics like Wertheimer, who say the decision could open the door for political parties to circumvent disclosure laws. He said an organization that is the "functional equivalent of a partisan campaign organization" should not qualify for the press exemption.

Temple denies the site is controlled or run by the Democratic Party. Missouri-based Fired Up is a limited-liability company that runs three activist Web sites in Missouri, Maryland and Washington state, as well as one national site. Temple said he wanted to run 15 sites around the country.

So far, it has been a volunteer operation. But now that its legal status has been clarified, Temple wants to turn it into a viable business model with revenue from advertisers and possibly investors.

Marc Elias, an attorney for the Web site, said its advocacy was no different from editorials run by newspapers urging voters to choose one candidate over another. And conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have been known to encourage donations to candidates, he said.

"There are commentators out there who are clearly partisan and we believe we have every right that they do," Elias said.

John Hancock, a spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, said the state GOP was taking no official position on the issue.

"It doesn't matter what the ruling is on FiredUpMissouri.com because we don't consider it to have an impact on state politics whatsoever," Hancock said.


Related

House declines to exempt Net from campaign-finance rules

Measure's opponents say they have alternate legislation that would protect online political speech while preventing lawmakers from using unlimited funds to buy cyber ads. 11.03.05

Campaign finance overview


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