FEC Democrats push for controls on Internet political speech
FEC Democrat pushes for controls on Internet political speech
Opponents: ‘Nothing short of a Chinese censorship board’
By Stephen Dinan - The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2014
The FEC deadlocked in a crucial Internet campaign speech vote announced Friday, leaving online political blogging and videos free of many of the reporting requirements attached to broadcast ads — for now.
While all three GOP-backed members voted against restrictions, they were opposed by the three Democratic-backed members, including FEC Vice Chair Ann M. Ravel, who said she will lead a push next year to try to come up with new rules government political speech on the Internet.
It would mark a major reversal for the commission, which for nearly a decade has protected the ability of individuals and interest groups to take to engage in a robust political conversation on the Internet without having to worry about registering with the government or keeping and reporting records of their expenses.
Ms. Ravel said she fears that in trying to keep the Internet open for bloggers, they've instead created a loophole for major political players to escape some scrutiny.
"Some of my colleagues seem to believe that the same political message that would require disclosure if run on television should be categorically exempt from the same requirements when placed in the Internet alone," said FEC Vice Chair Ann M. Ravel in a statement. "As a matter of policy, this simply does not make sense."
She said the FEC should no longer "turn a blind eye to the Internet's growing force in the political arena," and she vowed to force a conversation next year on what changes to make.
The three Republican-backed commissioners, though, said in a joint statement that Ms. Ravel's plans would stifle what's become the "virtual free marketplace of political ideas and democratic debate."
FEC Chairman Lee E. Goodman said what Ms. Ravel is proposing would require a massive bureaucracy digging into the corners of the web to police what's posted about politics.
"I cannot imagine a regulatory regime that would put government censors on the Internet daily, culling YouTube video posts for violations of law — nothing short of a Chinese censorship board," Mr. Goodman said.
The case disclosed Friday involved a group Checks and Balances for Economic Growth, which produced two advertisements it ran online in 2012 accusing President Obama of lying about a Mitt Romney campaign event, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown of lying about the "war on coal."
Initially, news reports had said the group was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to broadcast the ads on television, but the group says they were only shown on the Internet.
FEC lawyers said the ads don't expressly push for the election or defeat of a candidate, and said the commission's own rules say the costs of posting videos to the Internet doesn't trigger disclosure requirements. Meanwhile, an FEC precedent from 2008 says the costs of producing an Internet-only video also don't trigger disclosure.
Mr. Goodman said those rules have protected any number of popular political videos, from ObamaGirl's posts during the 2008 campaign to the spoof videos produced by JibJab.
"We're talking about everyone who's not a political committee who wants to post, for free, videos on YouTube, blog content, chat room content, create their own website expressing their political opinions," he said.
Political committees and individuals or groups who pay to have their ads run online are still subject to disclosure requirements.
Despite the 3-3 vote, only Ms. Ravel released a statement signaling discomfort with the existing rules.
The other two Democratic-backed commissioners did not release statements, and did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Friday night.
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