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.