WASHINGTON — Bloggers are taking on Rep. Christopher Shays over his proposal that campaign-finance rules apply to political Web sites.
Operators of political weblogs accused Shays, who has long promoted campaign-finance reform, of seeking to restrict free speech.
The liberal http://www.dailykos.com and conservative http://www.redstate.org urged readers to speak out, insisting that online activists should not have to worry about inadvertently running afoul of campaign-finance laws when they are expressing their opinions on the Internet.
Last week, Congress took up a bill that would have exempted the Internet from campaign-finance regulations. Shays, R-Conn., and Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., lobbied supporters of their campaign-finance law to oppose the bill. Shays and Meehan backed the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which was intended to reduce the influence of money in politics.
Shays said he wanted to prevent individuals, corporations and unions from waging unlimited campaign-advertising wars on the Web.
"If this law were to pass, a member of Congress could simply go to a large donor, corporation or union and control their spending of $1 million in soft money to pay for political advertising all over the Internet," he said.
Although most of the House sided with the bloggers, voting 225 to 182 for the exemption, the exemption failed to gain the two-thirds majority required for passage. As a result, the Federal Elections Commission will likely write the rules and issue opinions on Internet politics.
Shays and Meehan have also drafted a different bill, H.R. 4194, to protect the right of free speech for people who operate blogs. That bill was referred to a House committee on Nov. 1.
"I understand that many Web bloggers are concerned that somehow campaign-finance law will restrict their speech and I believe allowing bloggers the assurance that they will not be so burdened is something that we can ensure," Shays said.
The FEC had initially balked at regulating the Internet, saying the law did not authorize such regulation. Shays and Meehan sued, arguing that a federal judge found in their favor and has ordered the FEC to draft regulations.
Some Web site operators also hope to receive exemptions enjoyed by news organizations that are permitted to run candidate endorsements and political commentary outside FEC regulation.
Meehan argued that the issue was not free speech but political corruption.
"The primary constitutional basis for campaign-finance regulation is preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption of candidates or officeholders," he said. "Creating a new way for members of Congress or the Cabinet to solicit and then coordinate or control unlimited amounts of soft money is precisely the scenario campaign-finance reform banned."