- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Conservative and liberal bloggers both worry their freedom of speech is threatened by proposed campaign-finance rules that seek to regulate online political speech.

The Federal Election Commission is expected tomorrow to outline rules that could limit political Web logs and e-mail solicitations and would be similar to campaign-finance laws that apply to more traditional advocacy groups, such as the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association.

The rules could limit the amount of campaign money bloggers would be allowed to raise and the amount federal campaigns would be allowed to spend on Internet advertising.

Last week, the House was close to voting on the Online Freedom of Speech Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican. The bill is designed to allow political blogs, e-mails and other types of individual online communication to continue operating free from FEC regulations.

Hensarling spokesman Mike Walz said in a telephone interview that the House vote has been indefinitely postponed and expressed frustration because he thinks the FEC wants Congress to act first. “The fact that [the FEC] delayed their initial vote indicates they wanted to get a clear direction from Congress,” Mr. Walz said.

FEC Chairman Michael E. Toner has endorsed Mr. Hensarling’s bill.

“I don’t think the FEC is all that keen on this,” said David Keating, executive director of Club for Growth, a group that promotes limited-government policies. “They’re only doing this because the court told them to.”

The FEC was expected to publish its proposed Internet regulations yesterday on its Web site. However, the agenda item was listed as “submitted late.” When The Washington Times contacted the FEC, it said the item is now scheduled to be posted this morning.

When the FEC wrote its campaign-finance-reform rules in 2002, Internet communications were exempted. But finance-reform proponents Reps. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, disagreed and were joined by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which ruled in 2004 that the Internet exemption was at odds with the statute’s intent.

Bloggers across the political spectrum have united in opposition to proposed FEC regulations.

“Hopefully, when faced with actual regulations that affect political speech, Congress will stand up to the so-called ‘reform community’ …” said Mike Krempasky, co-founder of the popular conservative blog RedState. “We can’t really know how the FEC will rule. All we know is that since the House failed to pass [the bill], the Internet will be less free because of it.”

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the influential liberal blog Daily Kos, and Mr. Krempasky co-authored a letter to the FEC last year protesting restrictions on online political speech.

The Hensarling bill also has broad bipartisan support, including from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican; and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Mr. Reid is “concerned” the FEC could pass unnecessary regulations that would “silence this new and important form of political speech.”

The Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Family Research Council have signed on as well.

Reps. Tom Allen, Maine Democrat, and Charles Bass, New Hampshire Republican, have their own so-called “blog bill.”

That proposal would restrict the efforts of political blogs with annual operating budgets of more than $10,000. That would mean that larger political blogs, such as the Daily Kos or RedState, would become regulated while smaller sites would not.

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