Tuesday, January 6, 2015

FEC Commissioner Goodman Warns About Stifling Political Speech on the Internet

Federal Election Commissioner Lee Goodman recently published an excellent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on whether the FEC should regulate political communications posted on the Internet. As a champion of the First Amendment it is no surprise that Goodman’s answer to that question is a resounding “no.”     

Goodman’s op-ed offers a brief history of the FEC’s experience in regulating political speech on the internet noting that in its 2006 look into the issue the commission approved a rule “that freed the vast majority of political commentary on the Internet from regulation.”

Now it appears that the new Chair of the FEC, Ann Ravel, the other Democrat, and an independent commissioner want to revisit the FEC’s treatment of political speech on the internet, and by revisit, we mean ”regulate, regulate, regulate.” Goodman points to a split vote in October of 2014 on whether the FEC should have investigated a conservative political group that posted political videos on YouTube without reporting them to the FEC. Despite some recent backtracking from Ravel, Goodman and free speech advocates do not sound convinced that the liberals on the FEC are content with the status quo.

And Goodman argues the status quo is not good enough. Instead of more regulation, Goodman argues we need to “expand Internet freedom.” In essence, he points to the fact that the Internet in many ways provides a free avenue to communicate and amplify political speech. For example, You Tube is a free service and there are literally thousands of other ways to express political speech on the internet at little to no cost. Isn't that counter-intuitive to the narrative pushed by anti-speech groups who bemoan that our political debate has been reduced to expensive TV and radio ad buys funded by rich donors and big business? At its core, the internet is a great playing field leveler in our political system. Why should the government be working to stifle speech on such a platform? 

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