FEC Regulates the Internet

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Yesterday the FEC unanimously approved new regulations that would govern political speech and advertising on the internet. The final rules are less exhaustive than what was originally proposed, and focused on paid political advertisements placed on the internet—campaigns buying such ads will have to adhere to campaign finance laws.

Here are the basic rules:

  • Paid political advertising appearing on someone else’s Web site would have to be reported, regardless of how little or how much it costs. But that responsibility would lie with the candidate, political party or committee backing the ad—not the site accepting the ads.

  • All ads that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate or solicit donations would have to carry disclaimers.

  • Bloggers and other individual commentators wouldn’t have to disclose payments received from candidates, political parties or campaign committees—but those groups would have to report payments made to bloggers.

  • No one except registered political committees would be required to put disclaimers on political e-mailings or Web sites. The e-mail requirement would kick in only if the committee sent out more than 500 substantially similar unsolicited messages at a time.

  • The media exemption enjoyed by traditional news outlets would be extended to “any Internet or electronic publication,” which could include everything from online presences of major media companies to individual bloggers.
  • Any sort of regulations, even seemingly benign ones, will leave the internet vulnerable to greater federal control. However, this particular round of rulings is specific to campaign financing and prevents blogs from being exploited for their potential ad space. Paid political web ads are now subject to the same campaign finance limits as traditional media, which prevents the Internet from becoming what public interest groups refer to as “a loophole for unregulated soft money.”

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