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FEC Rules Regarding Internet Regulation Released

BY Michael Bassik | Wednesday, March 23 2005

The Federal Election Commission today released its much-anticipated proposed rules regarding the regulation of political communication on the Internet, including one that appears to treat “online-only news outlets, and even individual bloggers as legitimate journalists and immune from laws that could count their political endorsements as campaign contributions.” This according to Declan McCullagh, online journalist from CNET News.com, who has taken the time to read through the nearly 50-page document. [I'm half-way through it. Will post a more-detailed update on PDF later tonight. Easy to read version of the rules can be found at RedState.org.]

The announcement comes as a huge relief to many of us, as just a few weeks ago the online blogging and journalism community was up in arms over an interview with FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith in which he hints at a possible “crack-down” on political speech on the Internet.

The other piece of good news comes in the form of a time period. While many had thought the FEC would only provide a 30-day public comment period, they have actually allocated a full 60-days for comments.

In addition to crafting new rules regarding blogging and the illusive “media exception,” the FEC has also proposed changes to the definition of “public communication,” which had previously excluded paid advertisements on the Internet from many of the restrictions that apply to paid ads on all other outlets, such as television and radio. Following Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Shays v. FEC, 337 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 2004), the FEC had no choice but to include the Internet under the definition of “public communication.” We'll just have to wait and see whatCongress has to say about that.

After digesting the proposed rules, I know I join my colleagues at Online Coalition in asking for your opinions. If what Declan says is right, we might be able to declare a huge victory for the blogosphere, journalism, and free speech, all at once.

Stay tuned.

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