But Tightens Ad Disclosure Requirements for Political Committees Online

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- In a move that will almost certainly boost political ad spending on the Internet, the Federal Election Commission gave political blogging more freedom while tightening controls for paid advertising.
The new rules are likely to greatly increase the use of blogs and other Internet vehicles for political campaign marketing.

In a unanimous decision, the six-member FEC said paid political ads have to be disclosed -- but not much else -- on the Internet, unless the activity is specifically done by a campaign or a political committee. Under the new rule, e-mails, blogs, newsletters and Web sites that are not created by political committees would be exempt from most FEC regulation, a prospect that could increase their use.

Carte blanche for bloggers
The FEC has given considerable carte blanche to Web sites not run by political parties or candidates, not only maintaining a hands-off approach but specifically expanding exclusion for blogging. Under the new rules, bloggers that receive pay from campaigns don’t have to disclose the payments, though political committees that give bloggers the money have to disclose the payments.

The fear had been that new rules on Internet political activity, which until now had been largely unrestricted, would significantly rein in political activities on the Net.

In a joint statement, public interest groups including Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and Public Citizen praised the new rules. “The regulation adopted by the FEC today strikes the right balance. [It] makes clear that bloggers and other individuals communicating on their own Web sites are not covered by the campaign finance laws,” the statement said. “The regulation also makes clear that federal candidates and political parties buying campaign ads on the Internet to influence federal elections must comply with federal campaign finance laws and cannot use soft money to fund such ads.”

Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), one of two congressmen who sued the FEC for the rule change, said, “The landmark 2002 campaign finance reform law was protected today by the FEC’s decision, in response to a court order, to make clear that paid political advertising on the Internet is subject to federal campaign finance laws. The FEC’s regulation rightfully protects bloggers and other individuals who communicate on the Internet, while at the same time does not open up new loopholes in the existing campaign finance law.”

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