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March 08, 2005


Jim Glass

McCain can give all the good news to bloggers he wants. Unfortunately it won't amount even to what he's contrubuted to cleaning up boxing, since he's handed the power to the FEC -- so the news that counts will come from it.

And here's what that FEC Commissioner said about what's coming for bloggers...

Then what's the real impact of the judge's decision?

The judge's decision is in no way limited to ads. She says that any coordinated activity over the Internet would need to be regulated, as a minimum. The problem with coordinated activity over the Internet is that it will strike, as a minimum, Internet reporting services. They're exempt from regulation only because of the press exemption.

But people have been arguing that the Internet doesn't fit under the press exemption. It becomes a really complex issue that would strike deep into the heart of the Internet and the bloggers who are writing out there today.

(Editor's note: federal law limits the press exemption to a "broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication." )

How do you see this playing out?

There's sensitivity in the commission on this. But remember the commission's decision to exempt the Internet only passed by a 4-2 vote.

This time, we couldn't muster enough votes to appeal the judge's decision. We appealed parts of her decision, but there were only three votes to appeal the Internet part (and we needed four). There seem to be at least three commissioners who like this...

What would you like to see happen?

I'd like someone to say that unpaid activity over the Internet is not an expenditure or contribution, or at least activity done by regular Internet journals, to cover sites like CNET, Slate and Salon. Otherwise, it's very likely that the Internet is going to be regulated...

What happens next?

It's going to be a battle, and if nobody in Congress is willing to stand up and say, "Keep your hands off of this, and we'll change the statute to make it clear," then I think grassroots Internet activity is in danger.

The impact would affect e-mail lists, especially if there's any sense that they're done in coordination with the campaign. If I forward something from the campaign to my personal list of several hundred people, which is a great grassroots activity, that's what we're talking about having to look at.

Senators McCain and Feingold have argued that we have to regulate the Internet, that we have to regulate e-mail. They sued us in court over this and they won. [Thanks guys!]

If Congress doesn't change the law, what kind of activities will the FEC have to target?

We're talking about any decision by an individual to put a link (to a political candidate) on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet...

Why wouldn't the news exemption cover bloggers and online media?

Because the statute refers to periodicals or broadcast, and it's not clear the Internet is either of those.

Second, because there's no standard for being a blogger, anyone can claim to be one, and we're back to the deregulated Internet that the judge objected to.

Also I think some of my colleagues on the commission would be uncomfortable with that kind of blanket exemption...

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