McCain-Feingold in Cyberspace:
How Much Should Bloggers and the Internet Be Regulated?
Thursday, March 31, 2005
3:00 -- 4:30 pm
U.S. Capitol Building
The Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, in conjunction with the Internet Caucus and its Co-chairs, hosted a panel discussion to explore the implications of the Federal Election Commission’s "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)" on Internet political campaigning. The fair and balanced panel featured:
- Chairman Scott Thomas, Federal Election Commission Bio
- John Morris, Director, Internet Standards, Technology and Policy Project, Center for Democracy & Technology Bio
- Mike Krempasky, co-founder, RedState.org Bio
- Mike Cornfield, Consultant, Pew Internet & American Life Project (moderator) Bio
Despite their growing role in electoral politics, the Internet and Weblogs (“blogs”) were generally exempt from campaign finance regulations during the 2004 election cycle. In September 2004, however, a federal judge overturned the FEC's position regarding the Internet. The Commission now must determine whether and how blogs, paid advertising, and other speech on the Internet should be treated. Accordingly, the report, released March 23, 2005, explored possible extensions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act ("McCain-Feingold") to these previously exempted Internet communications.
Moderator Mike Cornfield opened the panel with a few statistics from a Pew Internet & American Life Project study: 136 million adult Americans are Internet users; 27% of Internet users are blog readers; 40% of Internet users went online seeking information during the 2004 campaign; and 14% of Internet users received political e-mail between Labor Day and Election Day 2004.
FEC Chairman Scott Thomas began his remarks by declaring, “The Federal Election Commission is your commission, designed to try and make the campaign finance laws that Congress passes work, and work effectively.” He emphasized that the regulations did not carry the goal of banning or chilling free speech on the Internet, only regulating what was necessary under existing campaign finance laws. He explained that under the proposed rules most Internet political communication would still be exempt from soft money regulations of public communications. Chairman Thomas stressed that only paid Internet advertising or distribution of over 500 e-mails to recipient addresses bought from a third party would be subject to a disclaimer.
Mike Krempasky, the co-founder of conservative weblog RedState.org, did not think that the rules were so cut-and-dry. Mr. Krempasky explained that this “presents challenges for people that want to be active online.” He emphasized that the Internet is not a safe haven for big money and corruption, depicting the blogosphere as representing a “broad and deep cross-section of America,” who are often suspicious of money and power, and fond of fact-checking.
John Morris expressed CDT’s concerns over the Internet’s fundamental differences from other mediums of mass communications and how these differences might not translate well when applying laws to the Internet. He worried that today’s regulations could hinder unforeseen developments in Internet communications.
There will be a 60-day public comment period on the proposed rule changes, following the April 4 publishing of the NPRM in the Federal Register.
This event was hosted by the Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, in conjunction with the Internet Caucus and its co-chairs, Senators Burns and Leahy and Congressmen Goodlatte and Boucher.