By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
In a unanimous vote yesterday, the Federal Election Commission left unregulated almost all political activity on the Internet except for paid political advertisements. Campaigns buying such ads will have to use money raised under the limits of current federal campaign law.
Perhaps most important, the commission effectively granted media exemptions to bloggers and other activists using the Web to allow them to praise and criticize politicians, just as newspapers can, without fear of federal interference.
The rules "totally exempt individuals who engage in political activity on the Internet from the restrictions of the campaign finance laws. The exemption for individual Internet activity in the final rules is categorical and unqualified," said FEC Chairman Michael E. Toner. The regulation "protects Internet activities by individuals in all forms, including e-mailing, linking, blogging, or hosting a Web site," he said.
The 6 to 0 vote was widely expected after the FEC released the proposed rules last week. That followed months of discussions and widespread concern -- which turned out to be unfounded -- among many political activists that the commission would impose significant restrictions on Internet campaign activity. The vote drew praise from most ideological quarters, as well as from several watchdog groups.
Conservative blogger Mike Krempasky wrote: "This is a tremendous win for speech." Liberal blogger Duncan Black, writing under the pseudonym Artios, said: "This could have been an utter disaster, but it appears to have all worked out in the end."
Three public-interest groups that are often critical of the FEC -- Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics -- said in a statement that "the new FEC regulation strikes the correct balance in preserving the Internet as an unregulated forum for robust political activity by individuals, while ensuring that the Internet does not become a loophole for unregulated soft money."
The rule allows the unlimited use of corporate and union computers for political activity by employees and members, as long as they are not doing so on company time or are not under orders from their employer or union.