Another push to get the Federal Election Commission to regulate political speech on Twitter has narrowly failed, according to newly-released documents from the agency, leaving Democrats exasperated.
"The Twitterverse has carved out for itself a unique and increasingly important role in American elections and political debate," Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub wrote in an opinion dated March 31. "The public has a right to know… by failing to require political committees to include disclaimers on their Twitter profiles, the Commission yet again has failed here to give meaning to these important concerns."
A complaint in the case, which involved Democratic Florida Rep. Lois Frankel and others, sought to force congressional candidates and both major political parties to include disclaimers on their public Twitter pages. According to documents released this week, the commission deadlocked on the issue in a 3-3 vote along party lines on Feb. 25. The deadlock means that, for now, candidates and parties can skip the disclaimers.
The commission in 2006 passed rules largely exempting unpaid political speech from disclosure requirements. But with an eye to stemming the influence of websites like YouTube and the Drudge Report, the agency's Democrats have sought to overturn that precedent.
In that vein, Weintraub argued it was time for the agency to crack down on candidates who spout off online.
"Twitter profiles plainly fit into one of the categories of political communications [and] of Internet website content available to the general public. Given the regulations' clear intent to encompass all Internet website of political committees ... it is reasonable to count Twitter profiles as among a political committee's websites," she wrote.
The decision not to crack down on Twitter is sure to come as welcome news for candidates like Donald Trump, who prominently uses Twitter to express his views on a panoply of issues. But that regulatory framework may not last forever. A December decision from the agency dismissed a complaint against former Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, but left open the possibility that the agency may be allowed to regulate third-party retweets in the future.