FEC Wants to Exempt Blogs From Campaign Rules

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) issued proposed rules Thursday
attempting to eliminate any restrictions on political blogging. The rules
focus on paid online advertising and political e-mail instead.

FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said the panel is still trying to determine whether a specific regulation exempting bloggers needs to be written, or if blogging would be protected by simply not including it in the proposed rules.

“That’s the sort of discussion we’ve been having, and however we
resolve it, I think it’s pretty clear that the result is not going to be bad
for bloggers,” Weintraub said in a statement.

In the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), Congress limited how
individuals can pay for communications that are coordinated with political
campaigns, including any form of “general public political advertising.” The
FEC issued a regulation specifically exempting from the BCRA anything
transmitted over the Internet, but a federal court said the regulation was
inconsistent with the law.

“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
political advertising,” Weintraub said.

The only Internet activity the proposed rules define as public
communications and subject to FEC regulations are advertisements placed for
a fee on another person’s Web site.

The proposed regulations also fine-tunes the FEC’s current disclaimer rules
requirements for certain political e-mail. Currently the FEC requires
disclaimers if 500 substantially similar unsolicited e-mails are sent. The
FEC’s Thursday refinement defines unsolicited e-mail as that sent to lists
purchased from third parties.

According to the FEC, the new e-mail proposal is meant to ensure that the
regulations only cover spam and not communications to large groups of an
individual’s own personal contacts.

Regarding blogs, Weintraub added, “We are not the speech police. The FEC
does not tell private citizens what they can or cannot say, on the Internet,
or elsewhere.”

The FEC’s proposed regulations specifically exempts any Internet activity by
unpaid individuals or volunteers in their own residences, on their own
equipment or on publicly available equipment.

“The good news is that most of the people we’ve heard from seem to be
urging us in the same direction. Everyone agrees that the Internet is a
potent and
dynamic tool for fostering political debate, and that any regulatory efforts
proceed on a ‘less is more’ theory,” Weintraub said.

The six-member FEC approved the proposed rules for a 60-day public comment
period before a June hearing on the regulations.

“Today is the beginning of a process that, like the Internet, is open and
interactive in nature. This document defines the scope of the rulemaking we
are about to undertake,” Weintraub said. “We cannot proceed unless this
document is approved by a majority of the six commissioners. The notice
seeks public comment on a wide range of issues related to the topic at hand.
If you think we’re not getting it right, tell us.”

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