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Election-law crackdown should wait, Feds told

The FEC is asked to hold off on regulating bloggers until there's actual evidence of a problem. Nobody's found one yet.

WASHINGTON--Witnesses testifying before the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday said campaign finance rules should not be extended to the Internet until there's actual evidence of online corruption or abuses.

Kicking off the second day of FEC hearings, three attorneys voiced reservations about the 47 pages of preliminary FEC rules. Crafted in response to a court order, the rules address a medley of campaign finance topics related to the Internet, including paid advertisements, bulk e-mail and political activity on workplace computers.

Robert Bauer, an election law lawyer with Democratic clients, cautioned the commission against basing the rules on "anxiety-producing hypotheticals."

"There really is no clamor out there for the commission to wade in certain areas the draft suggests it might," said Larry Gold, general counsel for the AFL-CIO.

Debate also swirled around the FEC's proposal to add Internet campaign activity to a list of workplace "facilities" whose on-the-job use is limited to one hour per week or four hours per month.

The rules would create an "abnormal life" for employees, said Reid Alan Cox, an attorney with the Center for Individual Freedom, a free-market advocacy group: "A lot of us work at all hours of the day, and it is very useful to be able to use the computers at work for our personal work as well."

Another panelist hammered the proposed rules as an attack on First Amendment freedoms. Speaking on behalf of the conservative Web site, Kristinn Taylor evoked the Chinese government's requirement that Internet sites and cafes register themselves with the government: "Surely, the commission does not want to be known as the agency that followed the lead of the communists in China by restricting political speech on the Internet."

FEC Commissioner Danny McDonald offered a response to Taylor's fears: "We're not responsible for World War II either. We're just trying to get at a very narrow area."

On Tuesday three panels of witnesses from both major parties aired their gripes and suggestions before the FEC.

The hearings are scheduled to stretch into Wednesday afternoon.

CNET's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.