Campaign finance law must cover Internet, four politicos argue

Four members of Congress are urging federal regulators not to immunize political Web sites and bloggers from campaign finance laws.

Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wisc., sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday suggesting that the agency create a new set of regulations that permit "robust political debate" without "creating loopholes" in the law. Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., also signed the letter.

A brief history lesson is in order. Those four politicos were the sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The law (PDF file) restricts "public communications," a phrase that pops up in many different corners of the statute such as restrictions on redistributing campaign material and curbs on "coordinating" activities with political campaigns.

That raised the inevitable questions: What might that definition mean in the Internet age? Do hyperlinks qualify as donations? What about forwarding a press release to a mailing list? No wonder the FEC voted in 2002 to exempt the Internet from the law's sweep.

But the FEC lost in court and is now required to come up with Net-regulations, a process that will begin with its . (Thanks to Prof. Rick Hasen at ElectionLawBlog.org for posting the congressional quartet's letter.)

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About the author

Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

 

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