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Political bloggers say FEC shouldn't regulate their speech

By The Associated Press
09.23.05

WASHINGTON — Political bloggers who offer diverse views on Republicans and Democrats, war and peace argued yesterday that they should be free of government regulation.

The notion was echoed by some members of the government agency trying to write rules covering the Internet’s reach in political campaigns.

Amid the explosion of political activity on the Internet, a federal court has instructed the six-member Federal Election Commission to draw up regulations that would extend the nation’s campaign finance-and -spending limits to the Web.

The FEC, in its initial rules, had exempted the Internet.

Bloggers told the Committee on House Administration that regulations encompassing the Internet, even ones just on advertising, would have a chilling effect on free speech. The FEC vice chairman also questioned the necessity of any rules.

“I strongly believe that the online political speech of all Americans should remain free of government review and regulations,” said Michael E. Toner.

Toner argued that political activity on the Internet fails to meet the campaign-finance law’s threshold to stop corruption or the appearance of corruption. Toner urged Congress to pass a law that pre-empts the court’s action and ensures that the Internet remains exempt from campaign-finance rules.

Michael J. Krempasky, director of the Web site RedState.org, said that if bloggers have to meet a government test every time they discuss politics, “the reaction will be completely predictable: rather than deal with the red tape of regulation and the risk of legal problems, they will fall silent on all issues of politics.”

But Scott E. Thomas, the FEC commissioner, said his agency’s original exemption for the Internet was a mistake and the FEC should come up with rules for Internet campaign ads in light of the $14 million spent on Internet ads in the 2004 campaign.

Thomas said Congress should hold off on any legislation until the FEC acts.

Another commissioner, Ellen Weintraub, said the agency preferred a “less is more” approach.

“This is appropriate because the focus of the FEC is campaign finance,” she said. “We are not the speech police.”

Thomas said the FEC hopes to write its rules by the end of the year. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is considering whether to review the ruling, and if it decides that the challenge to the initial rules had no standing, some commissioners may push to abandon the work on writing new rules, Thomas said.


Update
Proposed FEC rules leave most political activity on Net unregulated
But federal candidates' online ads would have to be paid for with money regulated by federal campaign law. 03.27.06

Previous
Bloggers go mainstream to fight regulation
Several Web log founders testify at hearing on FEC proposal that would extend some campaign-finance rules to Internet. 06.29.05

Related

Court ruling may force FEC to regulate Web political activity

Exemptions allowing for online ads, fund raising viewed by federal judge as undermining campaign-finance law. 10.13.04

FEC asks full D.C. Circuit to hear campaign-finance case
Commission appeals three-judge panel's decision ordering agency to write tougher rules to carry out Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. 08.31.05

Full D.C. Circuit won't review campaign-finance ruling
Decision means FEC must begin work on writing tougher rules interpreting Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act or appeal to Supreme Court. 10.25.05

Bill to exempt Net from campaign-finance law draws fire
Texas lawmaker says measure would prevent federal regulation of online speech, but authors of 2002 finance law say bill would allow soft money back into campaigns. 11.02.05

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

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