FEC ruling a victory for campaign finance reform and the internet

Two weeks ago, Clean Up Washington activists took action against a proposal to blow a huge loophole in campaign finance regulations on the internet. Thanks in part to our emails and phonecalls, the bill was pulled from consideration.

Today, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) dealt with this issue and passed what is generally a good regulation.

In its second attempt to grapple with campaign finance law and the Internet, the FEC finally stepped up to the plate and unanimously approved a reasonable regulation today that both protects the free speech rights of bloggers and preserves the integrity of the ban on soft money in federal elections. The FEC originally approved a regulation that poked a huge hole in the campaign finance law, allowing the unlimited use of otherwise illegal corporate and union money ("soft money") on the internet to promote or attack federal candidates. A federal district court rebuked the Commission and sent them back to the drawing board.

The final 96-page report on the regulation from the FEC’s General Counsel can be summed up fairly succinctly: Paid political advertsiements placed on other people’s Web sites must be paid for by money that is legal in federal elections — that is, limited contributions from individuals and PACs. Political advocacy by bloggers on their own Web site is protected. Also protected is political advocacy via e-mail and of on-line media to avail themselves of the media exemption.

On the whole, the FEC regulation effectively strikes a fair balance. Hopefully, Congress wil recognize that the FEC has adequately dealt with the issue of campaign finance law and the Internet and will drop its effort to codify H.R. 1606, which would bring back the reckless soft money loophole that the FEC has now abandoned. (And if the anti-campaign finance reform contingent in the House does try to bring it up again, we’ll be the first to let you know about it – and to take action!)