March 24, 2005 1:22 PM PST
Feds get set for Net rules
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campaign-related expenditures aren't regulated if they're made by certain types of journalistic outlets. But the definition is relatively narrow and covers only a "broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication"--it does not specifically include Web sites. FEC commissioners on Thursday said that they would make "case by case" decisions about who qualifies.
As the Federal Election Commission takes its first steps to shape campaign rules for the blog era, FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith warned that proposed rules present unanswered questions for bloggers:
Hasen suggested that the proposed rules may not go far enough. For instance, he said, bloggers that get paid by political campaigns should be required to disclose their involvement in a prominent notice on their Web site. (In last year's race, the Howard Dean campaign paid the publishers of the Daily Kos and MyDD blogs $3,000 a month.)
One page of the 47-page proposed regulation raises the question, and tentatively concludes that bloggers should not be required to disclose payments. During a brief debate, Mason warned that the FEC might not have the authority to force individuals to post disclaimers and proposed that the commission delete that page from the proposal.
Mason's attempt to approve the proposed rules without that page failed by a vote of 1-5. He was the lone dissenter in the 5-1 vote to approve the rules with that page included.
Commissoner McDonald said "it's important to have it in" because the public is "better served to have these issues out there and have them discussed."
The Republican commissioners seemed worried about starting a process that could result in an ever-growing set of rules affecting online commentators. "Once we start down this road, it will be very difficult to limit where we proceed," Mason said. "We may even be sued if we adopt these rules."
Interest from Capitol Hill has been unusually intense. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has introduced legislation that would effectively overturn Kollar-Kotelly's decision from last year by immunizing the Internet from campaign finance laws. In an opinion article on Thursday, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said that "bloggers should be classified as journalists and given First Amendment protections."
The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed regulations. The FEC is accepting comment by e-mail to Internet@fec.gov or through Regulations.gov. A public hearing is scheduled for June 28.
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