November 2, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Net campaign finance reform plan draws opposition
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of prophylactic regulation without evidence of an actual problem. "I see a connection between new technologies arriving, shaking up the status quo and then regulation following to blunt the threats," Samples said. "The campaign finance law is the effort of choice to control technologies because everybody thinks it's about corruption."
The measure continues to enjoy broad support from Democrats and Republicans, said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the House Administration Committee, which drafted the reform bill. The committee wanted to move swiftly "to make clear where the House stands on this issue," Walsh said.
A spat over "public communications"
The origins of this political spat lie in the complicated definitions found in a 2002 law called the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as McCain-Feingold).
That law regulated election-related "public communications," which it defined as involving a broadcast, cable or satellite connection; a newspaper or magazine; a billboard or bulk mail campaign; or "any other form of general public political advertising." That language is broad enough to sweep in the Internet, a federal judge ruled last year.
Because the Democratic members of the FEC chose not to appeal the Internet regulations, the commission was forced to begin the process of drafting regulations.
The House reform proposal, only one page long, simply says that the law's definition "shall not include communications over the Internet." It's scheduled for a floor debate at 11 a.m. PT through a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority vote for approval.
That surprise vote has alarmed liberal advocacy groups, which quickly fired off a letter (click for PDF) this week warning that in the future, politicians could coordinate online spending "with corporations, labor unions and wealthy donors."
Craig Holman, an analyst at the Ralph Nader-affiliated Public Citizen group, said: "We're all caught off guard and scrambling as fast as we can to try to inform members of the House." Holman spoke favorably of an alternative, more regulatory bill that Reps. Shays and Meehan were planning to draft (their offices did not return phone calls requesting a copy).
Congress has considered--and rejected--a similar immunization for the Internet before.
At one point when the election law overhaul was being debated, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, offered an amendment--nearly identical to this year's legislative fix--saying that "none of the limitations, prohibitions or reporting requirements of this act shall apply to any activity carried out through the use of the Internet." But the House rejected DeLay's amendment by a 160-268 vote.
If the House approves the measure, it would still have clear the Senate side, where an identical bill proposed by Reid is pending. Reid's office did not respond to interview requests on Tuesday.
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