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Former FEC Chairman Resigns

Bradley Smith, who earlier this year raised concerns about federal election laws impacting political blogs, is resigning from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), effective Aug. 21.

Following a federal court decision rejecting FEC rules exempting the Internet from campaign finance laws, Smith said he feared new regulations could lead to suppressing online political speech.

Bradley Smith
Bradley Smith
Source: FEC.gov

Smith, who was appointed by President Clinton to the FEC in 2000 and served as chairman of the FEC last year, said in a statement that he remained, "concerned about the effects our campaign finance laws are having on grassroots political participation. Political activity is more heavily regulated than at any time in our nation's history."

In March, the FEC issued a proposed new set of rules to cover the Internet, stressing that the regulations would have an "extremely limited impact" on blogs.

"The judge's decision does not mean that the FEC must now regulate all, most, or even very much Internet activity. We're faced with a question of statutory interpretation, and the phrase we're interpreting is 'general public political advertising,'" FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said when the new regulations were proposed.

In the new proposed rules, advertisements placed for a fee on another person's Web site are the only Internet activity to be governed by campaign election laws. The proposed regulations also fine-tune the FEC's current disclaimer requirements for certain political e-mail.

Under current law, e-mail disclaimers are required if 500 substantially similar unsolicited political e-mails are sent. Under the proposed rules, the FEC defines unsolicited e-mail as that sent to lists purchased from third parties.

As for political blogs, Weintraub said, "We are not the speech police. The FEC does not tell private citizens what they can or cannot say on the Internet or elsewhere."

Smith plans to return to the faculty of Capital University law school in Columbus, Ohio.