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FEC gets comments on regulating blogging & internet activity

The FEC has received comments from bloggers, activists, and lawmakers on their proposed rulemaking related to political activity on the net. From the Washington Post:

The authors of the campaign finance reform law, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), filed a joint statement urging the agency to ignore individuals' politicking on the Internet and focus instead on tightening rules governing online activities of unions, corporations and state political parties.

The lawmakers asked the FEC to exempt ordinary individuals and all bloggers from such regulations. They said bloggers who take money from political campaigns should not have to disclose that on their Web sites, as some have proposed. The lawmakers also said that bloggers who incorporate for liability purposes should not have to abide by rules barring corporations from contributing to political candidates.

The lawmakers complained that current rules allow state parties to use large, unregulated contributions of "soft money" to pay for federal election-related communications on the Internet while also allowing corporations and unions to buy and coordinate online ad campaigns with candidates. The lawmakers said the FEC's proposal to restrict such activities is not aggressive enough and ought to be expanded.

Over at InterAdvocacy, Chip Griffin argues that bloggers should disclose if they are paid by a campaign:

My position will not be popular with fellow bloggers, but I do believe that if a blogger is paid to blog by a campaign, that should have to be disclosed -- just like real world political activities. Now, if the blogger is taking money solely to run advertising, that's a different story -- the ad itself should carry the disclosure that the campaign paid for it.

Our view? Well, we're not experts in federal campaign finance law, but a few basic principles ought to carry the day:

* If money changes hands in exchange for favorable commentary, that ought to be disclosed in two places: with the commentary (by the blogger) and in the campaign's C&E reports. (Of course, this should be true of traditional journalists, too.)

* Blogging should be seen as protected free speech - just like standing on a street corner and talking. This is especially true of blogs that exist year-round and cover a wide range of topics, since that's most like a newspaper that publishes regularly. (A newspaper can endorse a candidate without having it counted as an in-kind corporate donation.)

* There's no reason why the Net should be a completely regulation-free zone. Right now, the law allows "independent" expenditures to coordinate with campaigns online, but not off-line. That's stupid. Any campaign, PAC, party, corporation, or union that spends money to influence an election should have to disclose that - whether it's spent online or off.

* As much as possible, the off-line rules should apply online. Use the "real world" as a guideline.

Personal Democracy Forum: Online Coalition Response to FEC
American Street: Bloggers and the media exemption
InterAdvocacy: Comments to FEC on Internet Campaigning Are In
InterAdvocacy: FEC May Issue Reasonable Rules
Election Law: How Will Reform Groups Come Down on FEC Regulation of Blogging?
VoteLaw: Blogs: To regulate or not?
Hullaballoo: Common Sense

Previously at P&T:
FEC to regulate internet activity?
That's Right: McCain-Feingold Doesn't Apply