Partisan bickering is nothing new in Washington. This time, however, the bickering may come at a price for free speech and election campaigning as it currently exists. Under current Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations, content published by individuals via blog or other free means is almost totally unregulated if it is available via the internet. There is, however, a new push by certain members of the FEC to place more restrictions on internet political action.

The Commission claims the proposed regulation is in response to thousands of comments regarding so called, “dark money” in politics. Essentially, it is cash spent on the periphery of elections, financing writers, bloggers, websites, and web-based groups. In a 2006 decision, the Commission decided that it would leave the internet free from regulation, provided the content was not the same content available via a regulated source (i.e. a television commercial available for viewing on a groups website). The proposed regulation, as it currently exists, calls for more disclosure of funding sources and donors. Essentially, sites and groups operating on the internet would have to disclose their donors to the FEC, and be subject to campaign limitations and other regulations. Currently, there are no such requirements in the wake of the 2006 decision by the FEC.

However, the FEC is likely hopelessly divided. The Commission is bi-partisan, and has previously ended up deadlocked on the topic of internet regulation. In October, then Vice Chair Ann Ravel announced her plan to begin writing regulations on internet groups. Her move came after a 3-3 vote by the commission regarding an Ohio internet campaign group that featured videos on their website. At that time, the Commission was chaired by a Republican. Now, however, a Democrat runs the Committee. Democrats argue that new regulations are needed to slow the growth of “dark money” and other underhanded political techniques. Republicans, on the other hand, argue that the proposed regulation is designed to intimidate right-center news sites and political groups that operate online. They also claim new regulation flies in the face of the original goal of leaving the internet unregulated: increased public participation in politics.

Regardless of the actual goal of the proposed regulation, given the political climate in Washington, this will likely turn into another stalemate.


Mike Sellner

One Response to Internet Elections Regulation: Another Pie in the Partisan Food Fight?

  1. William Healy says:

    Although one can understand the concern with “dark money” in politics, it is hard to see how such a regulation would be feasible with the vast amount of content that is published on the internet, as well as the dynamic ever changing face of many websites. Even if such regulations were successfully passed by the FEC, such feasibility concerns may focus the FEC on more traditional aspects of the political process.