The Federal Election Commission, facing punishing criticism for suggesting that political activity on the Internet should be regulated, rejected talk of new rules Thursday, a victory for GOP commissioners who feared Democrats were targeting conservative sites, even the Drudge Report.
During a public meeting, Democrats on the FEC said they were responding to the public outcry in saying that no new rules are required.
Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said the FEC received 5,000 comments demanding the agency keep their hands off the Internet. In response, she proposed a resolution that directly barred Internet regulation.
"I wanted to make clear that I was listening to what people are saying out there and I think we should allay those concerns if people are concerned that we are about to do that," she said. Her resolution said: "I further move that the Commission direct [counsel] to exclude from the rulemaking any proposal affecting political activity on the Internet."
Republicans on the commission had raised concerns that Democrats on the commission were targeting conservative political and news websites like Drudge, and could regulate them.
Weintraub said she never sought to regulate the Internet in her bid to provide more transparency in fundraising and political activity covered by the recent Supreme Court case, McCutcheon v. FEC, where the court struck down contribution limits.
In seeking public comments on the effort, she said, "Two strong messages that came in. There was a strong message that we not regulate the Internet and there was an even stronger message in terms of number of people who bother to comment, who said do something about disclosure." Overall, some 32,000 comments were received.
FEC Chair Ann M. Ravel, pushing for new disclosure regulations, added that the agency should make clear it won't touch the Internet. "There is no such regulation, and it should not — we can say it clearly here — in this motion," she said.
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The FEC deadlocked 3-3 and did not approve the resolution, but comments by Democrats appeared to put to bed for now moves by the agency to regulate the world wide web.
Republican Commissioner Lee Goodman told Secrets, "We have now won this debate, and that's good for the American people and the Internet."
Goodman had pushed a bid to "clarify" the regulations on Internet political activity but Democrats ignored him. "[What] I'm asking is to clarify existing freedoms," said Goodman.
Under current rules, political activity on the web is allowed, but paid advertising is regulated. There have been questions about groups that promote causes or candidates, but not through advertising, and even endorsements by news organizations.
Republicans rejected the Democratic motion, believing new regulations weren't required.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com.