- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

The Federal Election Commission voted 6-0 yesterday morning in favor of campaign-finance rules that will leave political speech on the Internet mostly unregulated.

“It didn’t take long to reach a decision,” said FEC spokesman Ian Stirton. “All six members voted in favor.”

The rules approved by the FEC will give Web sites, blogs and e-mails the same exemption that is provided to newspapers that cover political campaigns.

That means bloggers can promote or criticize federal candidates and issues without fear of financial penalty.

However, the rules will regulate online paid political advertisements.

The vote has been well-received online, but Mike Krempasky, co-founder of the popular conservative blog Red State, www.redstate.org, says he is still worried about regulatory action.

“The FEC deserves a lot of praise — especially Commissioners [Ellen L.] Weintraub and [Chairman Michael E.] Toner,” Mr. Krempasky said. “They took the lightest touch possible when it came to these regulations.

“It just remains to be seen whether or not the ‘reform community’ can resist the urge to sue that seems so deeply ingrained in their political DNA,” he added.

The House has been considering a bill that would write into law protections for political speech on the Internet. Former FEC Chairman Brad Smith yesterday urged passage of the bill, which has been stalled.

“It’s important Congress make their intent clear,” he said. “Otherwise, the FEC can change its rules later and reform groups could sue from time to time.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, said, “I’m heartened by the fact that the FEC’s rule is narrowly drawn, but a step in the wrong direction is still the wrong direction, and a bad precedent can lead to a worse precedent.”

In releasing its 96-page proposal Friday, the FEC wrote, “Through this rulemaking, the Commission recognizes the Internet as a unique and evolving mode of mass communication and political speech that is distinct from other media in a manner that warrants a restrained regulatory approach.”

Both conservative and liberal bloggers oppose online regulations, as do the Democrat and Republican senatorial campaign committees and the leaders of both parties in Congress.

The FEC took a quick vote yesterday after more than a year of debate and two recently postponed meetings.

In 2002, Congress passed campaign-finance reform rules, but provided an exemption for Internet communications. Regulation advocates opposed the online exemption.

In 2004, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the 2002 Internet exemption violated the campaign-finance law’s intent, forcing the FEC to issue a ruling.

“The law was never intended to regulate private citizen communication on the Internet,” FEC Vice Chairman Robert D. Lenhard told the Associated Press. “I believe that we have achieved that goal today.”

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