The Federal Election Commission has backed off its plans to regulate political content on the Internet in the face of mounting criticism after it suggested that online political activity should be regulated.
The FEC on Thursday rejected talk of new rules, a victory for GOP commissioners who feared Democrats were targeting conservative sites like the Drudge Report and Sean Hannity.
During a public meeting, Democrats on the FEC said they were responding to the public outcry in saying that no new rules are required, the Washington Examiner reported in a column by Paul Bedard.
Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said the FEC received approximately 5,000 comments demanding the agency keep its hands off the Internet, Bedard reported. In response, she proposed a resolution that directly barred Internet regulation.
“I wanted to make clear that I was listening to what people are saying out there, and I think we should allay those concerns if people are concerned that we are about to do that,” she said. Her May 18 resolution said: “I further move that the Commission direct [counsel] to exclude from the rulemaking any proposal affecting political activity on the Internet.”
Republican commissioners had raised concerns that Democrats on the commission were targeting conservative political and news websites like Drudge, and could regulate them.
Weintraub denied she ever wanted to “regulate the Internet” but was merely trying to provide more “transparency” in political fundraising covered by a recent Supreme Court case in which the court struck down contribution limits. The ruling led some, such as U.S. News and World Report, to declare that the U.S. had entered the “Wild West” of unlimited political donations.
But public comments on the plan, she said, brought home two clear messages: “There was a strong message that we not regulate the Internet, and there was an even stronger message in terms of number of people who bother to comment, who said do something about disclosure.”
A total of about 32,000 comments were received.
FEC Chair Ann M. Ravel, pushing for new disclosure regulations, added that the agency should make clear it won’t touch the Internet.
“There is no such regulation, and it should not – we can say it clearly here, in this motion,” she said.
The FEC deadlocked 3-3 and did not approve the resolution, but comments by Democrats appeared to stymie, at least for now, any attempts by the agency to regulate the online world.
Republican Commissioner Lee Goodman told Bedard, “We have now won this debate, and that’s good for the American people and the Internet.”
Goodman had pushed a bid to “clarify” the regulations on Internet political activity, but Democrats ignored him.
“I’m asking is to clarify existing freedoms,” said Goodman.
Under current rules, political activity on the web is allowed, but paid political advertising is regulated. There have been questions about groups that promote causes or candidates, but not through advertising. Even endorsements by news organizations have been questioned.
Republicans rejected the Democratic motion, believing new regulations weren’t required.