March 23, 2005 5:09 PM PST

Online politicking receives temporary reprieve

Political bloggers would continue to be exempt from most campaign finance laws, according to highly anticipated rules that federal regulators released Wednesday.

The Federal Election Commission also proposed that online-only news outlets and even individual bloggers should be treated as legitimate journalists and thus be immune from laws that could count their political endorsements as campaign contributions.

The 47-page outline of proposed rules (click here for PDF file) takes a cautious approach to the explosive question of how Web sites and e-mail should be regulated, with the FEC saying throughout that its conclusions are only tentative ones and inviting public comment. The comment process is expected to be approved by the agency at its meeting Thursday.

Ever since FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith warned of the possibility of a crackdown on bloggers in an interview with CNET News.com in early March, politicians and political junkies have been closely following the commission's deliberations. While one senator has proposed a near-complete inoculation of the Internet, some of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act's original sponsors have warned of "creating loopholes" through insufficiently aggressive regulations.

"These proposals are intended to ensure that political committees properly finance and disclose their Internet communications, without impeding individual citizens from using the Internet to speak freely regarding candidates and elections," the FEC said in a statement.

The initial reaction from bloggers was cautiously positive. "The blogosphere has indeed flexed its muscles here, and we've been heard," said a posting on the conservative-leaning Democracy-Project.com.

The FEC's proposed regulations also say:

• Political spam must be labeled, a relaxation of a current regulation that requires disclaimers when more than 500 bulk messages endorse or attack a political candidate. Now only such e-mail sent to addresses purchased "through a commercial transaction" must sport disclaimers.

• Linking to a campaign's Web site will not be counted as an "expenditure" that could trigger campaign finance law unless money changes hands. Also exempt are "distributing banner messages" and "blogging."

• Someone simply running their own Web site from their own computer or hosted on a service like Blogger.com does "not make a contribution or expenditure" that must be reported as a campaign contribution.

• Forwarding e-mail from a political candidate "would not constitute republication of campaign materials," which could have triggered another complex section of campaign finance law.

In one area, the FEC seems unsure about how to proceed and asks for input from Internet users. The agency notes that online-only news sites such as Salon.com, Slate.com and DrudgeReport.com have no

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Saddle up and ride to the sound of the Blogs.
This is an unusually encouraging bit of news, but as they saying goes, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. There will continue to be elements of the political establishment, even some from within the politically lobbying world, who are going to want to try to put controls on the internet. They are not going to want to deal with a new and pervasive medium which is beyond their direct control, thus evading their ability to predictably spin and influence.

There will be vast sums of money and time spent fostering blogs and people running blogs among the political parties and lobbying organizations between now and the next presidential election cycle.

If anybody thought the days of the wild-west internet were over, they need look no further than the Blogosphere to find them again.
Posted by NWLB (326 comments )
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