Democratic Federal Election Commissioner Ann Ravel moved this week to deny a conservative nonprofit group legal protections that exempt most online political communications from federal political spending limits and disclosure laws.
Experts say the move is an attempt to undermine the “internet exemption,” as the provision is known, without going through normal legislative and regulatory processes. In effect, they say, Ravel was denying legal protections to the group simply because she disagrees that those protections should exist.The FEC Democrats voted against applying the internet exemption in yet another complaint regarding internet videos:
The commission also split 3-3 in a recent case that asked if the Internet exemption also exempts a webcast of a discussion with political candidates that provides a link to contribute to candidates. The Republicans said it was exempt; the Democrats disagreed.
Goodman, a Republican, said the decisions are likely to have a chilling effect on free speech.
“Political speakers who are careful about what they do, and who are advised by lawyers, may be chilled from communicating on the Internet, in the light of a 3-3 divide on the commission,” he said. “There is definitely a chilling effect.”As the FEC is currently constituted, the three Republican commissioners protect against the Democrat commissioners ignoring the law to regulate speech on the internet, but there are proposals to change the composition of the FEC:
Goodman said while the 3-3 split on the commission stalls any Internet regulatory push, he warned that if legislation in Congress passes to make the body a five-person body, it could give the Democrats the majority they need.
“If the commission were to be reconstituted, I believe we’re looking at full-blown regulation of political speech on the Internet,” he warned.We thank Chairman Petersen and Commissioners Goodman and Hunter for standing up for the rule of law and protecting free speech on the internet.