The Post is right to be concerned about a proposed campaign finance bill that exempts Internet communications from the spending limits and other rules that apply in the "offline" world ["Cyber Loophole," editorial, Oct. 11]. The scenario of a deep-pocketed donor making an end run around federal spending limits by funding a candidate's Internet advertising operation is certainly possible.
But the solution the editorial offered -- leaving it to the Federal Election Commission to apply campaign finance laws to the Internet -- is a blunderbuss that will squelch political speech by individuals spending little or no money. The FEC lacks the authority to adequately protect small online speakers while regulating big money online.
The Internet is the most powerful tool for political discourse since the printing press. If the FEC is forced to apply existing law, ordinary individuals will be subjected to reporting requirements and other burdens suited to organized (and usually well-heeled) political operations. How many will abandon their valuable discourse to avoid running afoul of federal law?
Congress has no choice but to get involved. New federal rules should be crafted to address abuses by big money while protecting the rights of individuals to use the Internet to its fullest potential.
Center for Democracy and Technology
It would be wonderful if the Federal Election Commission could, as The Post hopes, rewrite its regulations to protect the free-speech rights of bloggers and to subject Internet advertising to the rules that govern other media.
Unfortunately, since my clients (prominent liberal bloggers) testified before the FEC in June, the commission has dropped to five members and now seems incapable of forming a consensus on these issues. Moreover, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has recommended that the president replace as many as four commissioners whose terms are expiring with pro-regulation allies.
As the 2006 primaries approach, it is questionable whether a newly constituted FEC will have the time or expertise to enact the regulations The Post seeks.
A blanket exemption of the Internet from the definition of public communications, on the other hand, would preserve the flourishing status quo. In 2004 a vibrant blogosphere empowered millions of citizens to influence national politics, leveling the effect of wealth on the electoral process. The low costs of entry, ease of use and infinite bandwidth of the Internet stand as a counterweight to political action committees and other entrenched interests. This citizen participation, however, would be chilled by poorly drafted or complex regulations designed to thwart a threat that remains theoretical.
A temporary exemption would allow Congress and the FEC to determine what problems may require intervention as the medium grows. In the meantime, why rush to regulate for 2006 that which caused no problem in 2004?
ADAM C. BONIN
The writer is an attorney whose clients include liberal bloggers Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com and Duncan Black of Eschaton.