FEC Commissioner Warns of Push to Regulate Issue Content Online

Rudy Takala | February 11, 2015 | 6:18pm EST
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FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman. (FEC)

(CNSNews.com) – A Washington-based non-profit is urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to impose new regulations on political speech online, which could include issue-related content on such popular websites as YouTube and the Drudge Report, according to FEC Commissioner and former chairman Lee Goodman.

Over 40 witnesses were on the agenda to testify for or against additional FEC regulations at a public hearing held at the agency’s headquarters in Washington on Wednesday.

In an interview with CNSNews.com, Goodman said he was disturbed by a proposal from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) urging the FEC to enact particularly intrusive regulations. 

“CREW submitted a comment to the commission in connection with this hearing urging the committee to expand its definition of electioneering communication to include issue communications over the Internet,” Goodman told CNSNews.com. “Their legal justification for that is that most citizens gain Internet access via cable or satellite technology.

“Under CREW’s proposal, anyone who communicates about policy issues on the Internet within 60 days of an election would be required to file expenditure reports disclosing not only who is communicating on YouTube or a blog or a website, but all of their donors as well,” he noted.

“That could include YouTube and Drudge?” CNSNews.com asked.

“That would most certainly include YouTube and Drudge,” Goodman replied. “If you’re posting on YouTube, I think the position that [some of] those who want to regulate the Internet more [is] you would have to include all the production costs of the video. It would be an insidious regulatory scheme,” he added.

“What’s even more insidious about the CREW recommendation is it would cover issue advocacy and not just express [candidate] advocacy.”

In a comment submitted to the FEC in January, CREW complained that people were increasingly using the Internet for “electioneering” without being inhibited by federal regulation:

“As use of the Internet and other electronic communications technologies has flourished, organizations increasingly are paying for electioneering communications posted exclusively on the web, Facebook, and other Internet based media.”

According to the FEC, an electioneering communication is defined as any "broadcast, cable or satellite communication" that 1) identifies a candidate for federal office; 2) is distributed within 60 days of an election; and 3) is viewed by the candidate's voters.

Current FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel called for regulation of the Internet in October, claiming that “the Commission's approach to the Internet and other emerging technologies” is turning “a blind eye to the Internet's growing force in the political arena.”

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