In the face of stiff opposition to a plan to extend campaign finance laws to the Internet, which led many bloggers to fear that political speech would be restricted online, members of Congress are now openly calling for legislation to kill the plan before it ever gets off the ground.
The Federal Election Commission's proposal, issued in March, resulted from a 2004 court ruling that found no basis to exempt the Internet from rules intended to regulate campaign expenditures and add transparency to the electoral process. The proposal would, among other things, place limits on political advertisements and require disclaimers for some activities and ads sponsored by parties or candidates.
Several members of Congress attending a House of Representative Administration Committee hearing on Thursday said that they favored making the status quo permanent by rewriting campaign laws to protect the Internet from the FEC. Two members of the FEC also in attendance said that they supported a restricted role for the Commission in this area but said that totally exempting the Internet was a bad idea.
It's hard to disagree with the Commissioners. The FEC wasn't interested in regulating the Internet in the first place, but now that its hand has been forced, the proposed regulations are rather limited in scope. (See EFF's Legal Guide For Bloggers for more information.) A real concern is that the FEC might try to pass more invasive restrictions in the future, but it's hard to make a principled case that the Internet deserves an entire campaign finance carve-out.
Given how hard it is to ask politicians to limit how they can spend campaign funds, it seems likely that the views expressed in today's hearing will win out and render this entire debate moot.