The top Democrat on the Federal Election Commission is calling for a “re-examination” of regulations on Internet political advertising, a move some claim will harm the “last vestige” of free speech in the political system and end up targeting right-leaning websites.
FEC Vice Chair Ann Ravel issued a letter Friday laying out her plans to take up the issue next year, when she takes over as chairman of the commission.
Ravel released it following a 3-3 party line vote on whether an anti-Obama group in Ohio violated FEC regulations when it did not provide a disclaimer or disclose finances for two videos it published to YouTube.
The Republican members of the commission cited a 2006 ruling which provided a so-called “Internet exemption” which allows for the publication of free political web videos.
But according to her letter, Ravel, an Obama appointee, hopes to change that.
“A re-examination of the Commission’s approach to the Internet and other emerging technologies is long overdue,” she wrote, adding that “the Commission has not adapted with” a changing world.
Warning against “turning a blind eye to the Internet’s growing force in the political arena,” Ravel said that “this effort to protect individual bloggers and online commentators” has been “stretched to cover slickly-produced ads solely on the Internet.”
Much of that content, Ravel wrote, is produced by the same groups that pay for TV ads, which the FEC regulates.
“For that reason, next year, I will bring together technologists, social entrepreneurs, policy wonks, politicos, and activists — from across the spectrum — to discuss new and emerging technologies and how the Commission’s current approach may or may not fit with future innovations,” she continued.
Ravel’s Republican FEC colleagues responded to her plan.
“The FEC’s approach to free speech on the Internet should be hands-off,” FEC chairman Lee Goodman told Fox News.
He explained further in a statement released along with his two Republican colleagues.
“Regrettably, the 3-to-3 vote in this matter suggests a desire to retreat from these important protections for online political speech — a shift in course that could threaten the continued development of the Internet’s virtual free marketplace of political ideas and democratic debate,” the three Republicans wrote.
Goodman issued warnings earlier this year that some members of the FEC hoped to clamp down on internet political sites, especially those operated by conservatives.
He also said then that they would have “disparate treatment” on conservative outlets, such as the Drudge Report. (RELATED: FEC Chair: Government May Move To Limit Conservative Media)
The reason, he said, was that “the right has begun to break the left’s media monopoly, particularly through new media outlets like the Internet, and I sense that some on the left are starting to rethink the breadth of the media exemption and Internet communications.”
“Vice Chair Ravel is trying to regulate the last vestige of truly free political expression in American politics,” Paul Jossey, a campaign finance lawyer who monitors the FEC, told The Daily Caller.
“Unfortunately, she’s been agitating for these types of speech-chilling measures for a long time.”
Jossey pointed to Ravel’s stint as California’s top poll policewoman at the Fair Political Practices Commission.
As commissioner of that agency, Ravel sought to force political blogs and websites to disclose when their content had been paid for by political interests.
The proposal was denounced by political content providers on both sides of the political spectrum, including the left-wing site Daily Kos.
Ravel successfully enacted a different regulation, one similar to what she is proposing to take up when she ascends to the FEC chairmanship in January.