They've repeatedly tried and failed to impose regulations on Internet political communications, possibily even media sites like the Drudge Report, but congressional testimony that unnamed Russians spent $100,000 for politically themed ads on Facebook is sparking a new bid by Democrats on the Federal Election Commission.
Commissioner Ellen Weintraub and former FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel quickly reacted to reports on the Russian ads targeting voters, using their favorite social media tool – Twitter – to indicate their new focus.
"Oh, that's not good," tweeted Weintraub. "I wholeheartedly agree," responded Ravel to a series of tweets that included the Russia influence report.
Weintraub also demanded that the FEC address the issue of "internet political communications" at its next meeting on Sept. 14.
Facebook's involvement and proof of Russian spending on political ads could give Democratic FEC critics of the freewheeling Internet the case they've needed.
Republicans on the FEC have claimed for years that the Democrats have been focused on the Internet in part because they want to silence conservative outlets like the Drudge Report, conservative videos, and even movies.
But the Facebook revelation and huge amount of money involved should give the Democrats a new weapon in their fight to regulate spending on Internet sites beyond paid advocacy. Under current rules, paid online ads that say, for example, "Vote For" or "Vote Against," are regulated. The so-called Internet freedom rule, however, exempts free Internet posts and advocacy by third parties.
Ravel, who is still influential in the campaign to regulate Internet spending, signaled in another tweet her support for a national campaign to pressure Congress to expand FEC rules to cover online campaigns.
"And it's becoming more and more important," she tweeted, "as all forms of campaigning moves to the internet."
Then late Thursday, Weintraub pushed further on Twitter, promising more action on the politically split FEC. "We're *very* late on this. Don't know why @FEC GOPers have obstructed us for months, but I'm not done fighting. Stay tuned," she wrote.
She attached her demand that the issue be discussed next week to a tweet that read, "So I'm putting it to a vote at @FEC: Do the American people deserve to know who's paying for the political info they see on the internet?"
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org