FOR: FSC MEMBERS AND FRIENDS
SUBJECT: FEC Won't Regulate Internet Politics
DATE: March 29, 2006
Good news! A government agency has declined an opportunity to regulate more of your free speech.
In April 2005, the Federal Election Commission ("FEC") proposed to revise several of its rules, including those on Internet Communications, following a 2004 decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia effectively requiring the FEC to remove the former wholesale exclusion of Internet activity from FEC regulation. There was great concern among free speech advocates that the FEC might attempt to bow too far to that judicial directive, and to regulate cyberland press activities, even though the establishment print and electronic press were not regulated.
On June 3, 2005, FSC and FSDEF filed comments urging exemption of the Internet from FEC regulation, and stressing the need to modify its proposed regulatory terms to make certain that Internet communications were indeed exempt. FSC and FSDEF also suggested that, if the FEC decided to regulate Internet communications, such regulations should not be applicable to any communications except those originating within the District of Columbia. www.freespeechcoalition.org. Apparently, the FEC received more than 800 comments on the proposed regulations.
On March 27, 2006, the FEC adopted (6-0) its Final Rules on Internet Communications (effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register), determining that most Internet communications - all except for "communications placed for a fee on another person's website" - are not included in the phrase "public communication" and are free from campaign finance regulation. Determining that "[t]he need to safeguard Constitutionally-protected political speech allows no other approach," the FEC also "addressed several of its other rules to remove potential restrictions on the ability of individuals and others to use the Internet as a low-cost means of civic engagement and political activity."
Importantly, the new rules expressly changed the FEC's "media exemption" to provide that Internet users - even when praising or criticizing politicians and candidates - are exempt, like newspapers are exempt, from campaign finance regulation.
You may view the new FEC rules at http://www.fec.gov/agenda/2006/mtgdoc06-20.pdf and http://www.fec.gov/agenda/2006/mtgdoc06-20a.pdf (amendments).
There is also some interesting commentary on this issue at: http://redstate.org/