Weintraub’s most recent choice of words is akin to the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. Rather than lead with what she actually wants – full regulation of speech on the Internet – she was careful to open her conversation without a specific proposal. She knows the public backlash her fellow traveler former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel encountered after she voted to regulate YouTube videos disseminated for free accompanied by a clarion call for the FEC to change its restrained approach to political speech on the Internet.
That was a big mistake, substantively and politically. . . . Weintraub is more slippery than Ravel. Where Ravel would walk off a political plank, Weintraub knows how to be politically expedient above all else. For example, pining for support of Senator Schumer’s law firm to keep her post (she’s 16 years into a six-year term and wants to stay), she recently broke with reformers in voting to greenlight a Democrat group’s online fundraising application. That vote earned her rebukes from reformers, but might have won her quid pro quo political support to stay on the FEC a little while longer. . . . But Weintraub’s regulatory plans for the Internet have been just as clear as Ravel’s in a series of votes in FEC regulatory actions. . . .Unfortunately, while foreign influence is the excuse for the calls for increased regulation, the speech that will actually be regulated is political speech by American citizens:
Weintraub said she will start her attack on online free speech small by tweaking FEC disclaimer requirements for online paid ads. Republican Commissioner Lee Goodman, an Internet freedom advocate, said (at minute 13:30) he was suspicious of Weintraub’s objectives, because demanding disclaimers on foreign ads would be illogical. Foreign paid ads already are prohibited by law. Adding a disclaimer requirement for ads that already are illegal would not be effective. Furthermore, he questioned whether the United States could effectively police disclaimers on ads posted by foreigners, on foreign computers, through foreign servers, on foreign soil—it is, after all, the World Wide Web.
Given these obvious limitations, Weintraub’s true aim, just like Ravel’s, must be greater burdens on all political communications by American citizens online. YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and webcasts streamed over the websites of American citizens will be fully regulated—starting small with disclaimers and soon moving to expenditure reports and even censorship of links, re-tweets and free online interviews under broad theories of “coordination” and prohibited corporate in-kind contributions.Mr. Warrington concluded by pointing out that if the result of any foreign advertisements is a restriction of free speech, the Russians would be pleased. If we truly want to prevent foreign powers and actors from improper influence in our elections, we need to zealously protect free speech.