Net campaign finance reform plan draws opposition

A campaign finance reform plan to immunize bloggers from election laws is facing last-minute opposition before a vote in Congress on Wednesday.

A few months ago, a proposal in Congress to exempt the Internet from a weighty volume of campaign finance regulations seemed to enjoy near-unanimous support among politicians in Washington.

The reform plan counted as backers everyone from arch-conservatives to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose district includes part of Silicon Valley, even claimed that the legislation could pass in one afternoon.

Now that prediction will be tested. After the U.S. House of Representatives scheduled a vote for Wednesday on the proposal, which would immunize bloggers and other online commentators from election-law regulations, liberal advocacy groups have mounted a last-minute lobbying effort to derail the plan.


What's new:
The U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled a vote for Wednesday on a proposal that would immunize bloggers and other online commentators from election-law regulations.

Bottom line:
Liberal advocacy groups have mounted a last-minute lobbying effort to derail the plan, which they call too broad and promises to usher in unregulated political advertising online.

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"This bill is drafted far broader than it needs to be, with the result that it is going to allow members of Congress to use corrupt, unlimited soft money to pay for ads on the Internet to support their campaigns," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which presses for greater regulation of election-related spending and speech.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is under court order to extend a controversial set of election laws to the Internet, and final regulations are expected at any time. They could cover everything from regulating hyperlinks to politicians' Web sites to forcing disclosure of affiliations with campaigns. After mounting an aggressive campaign to draw attention to the perils of regulating Web sites, bloggers managed to secure the introduction of the Online Freedom of Speech Act in the House and the Senate.

Opponents of election-law reform say the proposals are too broad and promise to usher in unregulated political advertising online. The New York Times, for instance, wrote in an editorial this week that the reform bills would carve out a loophole from the 2002 law that "stopped federal officials from tapping corporations, unions and fat cats for unregulated donations in the quid pro quo marketplace."

"If this law were to pass, a member of Congress could simply go to a large donor, corporation or union and control their spending of $1 million in soft money to pay for political advertising all over the Internet," Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D-Mass., wrote in a widely distributed letter to their House colleagues on Tuesday.

Free-speech advocates and opponents of Internet regulation, on the other hand, say the reform proposal is hardly threatening.

"Right now, I think what you've got is a lot of hysteria, and a lot of 'What might happen,' and that's not the way that we need to be doing regulations," said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Instead of permitting the FEC to move ahead with an Internet crackdown, Johnson said, a wiser alternative would be to wait for actual evidence of a problem. "We need to see what happens in the real world, first of all... I don't think it makes sense at this point to say we need to regulate blogs until we see how everything's working."

John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the free-market Cato Institute, also said he takes a dim view

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