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March 25, 2006
The FEC Listened

The FEC announced its new regulations last night, the timing of which would normally bode ill for free-speech advocates, but it appears that the regulatory body has avoided regulating blogs at all:

The Federal Election Commission last night released proposed new rules that leave almost all Internet political activity unregulated except for the purchase of campaign ads on Web sites.

"My key goal in this rule-making has been to make sure that the commission establish clear rules to exempt individuals who engage in online politics from campaign finance laws," said Chairman Michael E. Toner, a Republican.

"We tried to craft a regulation that would allow the maximum amount of freedom for people as possible," said Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democrat.

Most bloggers, individual Web users, and such Web sites as Drudge Report and are exempted from regulation and will be free to support and attack federal candidates, much as newspapers are allowed.

That last sentence sounds a bit snarky coming from Thomas Edsall and Zachary Goldfarb. The point of our opposition to encroaching federal regulation of speech isn't to "attack federal candidates," but to exercise the kind of free speech that the founding fathers envisioned when they wrote the First Amendment. That may include attacking federal candidates but also includes suuporting federal candidates that represent our political point of view.

This FEC release is good news for the blogosphere, especially considering the statements from the commissioners about their intentions on drafting the rules. They emphasized their desire to leave the blogosphere unfettered and gave the widest possible definition to the exemption that they could muster, under the guidelines forced on them by the federal judiciary. The only restriction we will have is on our advertising, which must carry a disclaimer of some sort in order to avoid allegations of coordination. This is a silly requirement for television ads, one that reduces the last ten seconds to the kind of speed-freak babbling that we have to hear on car commercials and loan advertisements.

We should not forget that the author of all this silliness, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), still remains in force, and that this exemption exists at the pleasure of the FEC. We still need a solid commitment from Congress that will restrict the actions of later FECs in regulating free speech on the Internet. We need to support House bill 1606, which will make the blog exemption an act of Congress that the FEC cannot reverse. Beyond that, we need to restore sanity to the electoral-campaign process by repealing the BCRA (aka the McCain-Feingold Act), forcing all political contributions to be handled alike and in the open, and quit attempting to stifle speech in a vain attempt to purify politics.

UPDATE: Patterico has his reservations about the beneficence of the FEC:

We’ll have to see the actual regulations before we can breathe easy. Even if they don’t regulate blogger speech now, it should concern us all that the government even claims the authority to regulate our speech — even if it isnt yet exercising that so-called authority.

I agree -- which is why I joined him in calling for an end to the BCRA and all the mischief it spawned.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 25, 2006 7:55 AM

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