Feds Hope to Regulate Political Speech on the Internet

Michael Schaus
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Posted: Feb 12, 2015 12:43 AM
Feds Hope to Regulate Political Speech on the Internet

The Federal Election Commission is considering expanding their regulatory power to include political speech online… Yeah, let’s regulate the internet. I mean, free speech can’t just be expected to run wild or anything, right? The FEC held an open hearing yesterday to determine if they will move forward on clamping down on political content online (such as blogs, YouTube videos, and other “free” messaging). According to CNS News:

Last October, FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel issued a statement in which she complained that the agency was not doing enough to monitor activity on the Internet.

Right… Because I know I’m terrified that the feds aren’t doing enough to regulate people’s ability to speak freely. The Democrat members of the FEC want to expand their regulatory oversight to include content that is not paid political advertising. Currently, some online content is exempt from the bureaucratic oversight of the Orwellian Federal Election Commission’s disclosure laws. According to the Washington Examiner:

Under a 2006 FEC rule, free political videos and advocacy sites have been free of regulation in a bid to boost voter participation in politics. Only Internet videos that are placed for a fee on websites, such as the Washington Examiner, are regulated just like normal TV ads.

So to put it differently: The “internet exemption” only applies to videos posted for free on sites like YouTube, Facebook, and individual blogs… Yeah, we should totally bring a little government to Facebook, or the Drudge Report. Dontchya think?

It’s not as if we’re talking about posting an ad online, and suddenly having the ability to forget that the FEC is breathing down your neck. The current exemption only applies to online content that is not considered paid advertisements. In other words, internet versions of TV commercials, radio spots, or any other online media that has paid placement (even on other websites, or through an ad agency) must report to the FEC under current law.

So who are we really talking about regulating here? The guy that rants into his computer camera and posts it on YouTube? The casual blogger? I mean, by the very fact that we’re discussing nonpaid content, I’m assuming these are mostly people without the Koch brother’s fortune to blow on an election. (And, by the way, those evil Kochs don’t even make it into the top 20 list of America’s biggest-spending political donors.)

What part of “free” speech seems so impossible for our Democrat friends in the FEC to understand? Or are Democrats simply adapting their Second Amendment objections to the First? “It’s an antiquated amendment,” they say. “Our founding fathers never could have imagined the technology we have today!”… Sure. But in their day, the musket was an assault weapon, and pamphlets were viral communication. And just as pamphleteers objected to King George’s “Stamp Act”, bloggers, columnists, and online content producers should probably worry about the FEC’s plan to monitor online political speech.

Disclosure in political spending is a fine goal, but there still has to be such a thing as speech that is unmonitored, unregulated, and intrinsically “free”. After all, the First Amendment doesn’t protect our right to speak under the condition that we obtain prior approval and comply with ongoing regulatory schemes. (Somehow I don’t see folks like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, or Ben Franklin really getting on board with that kind of government oversight of political discourse.)

Ostensibly, the move is designed to help flush out secretive “dark money”. Now, let me translate that for all the Liberals who peruse my column (you know who you are): The FEC wants to know who is getting money from the Koch brothers. But, this straw man argument is pretty suspect. The biggest spenders in American politics tend to skew Left… Progressive groups, environmentalists, and Unions. And while the FEC will be busy snooping around on YouTube looking for political speech to squander, the AFL-CIO will continue to funnel it’s forced union dues into Democrat campaigns with little oversight, transparency, or scrutiny.

The simple phrase “monitoring political speech” should be a pretty big “red flag” in a country that prides itself on diversity, tolerance, and individual liberty. Americans might pride themselves on being a land that understands and champions freedom of speech, but they sure have a heavy set of regulations to go along with such enthusiasm.

*And, for the record, the views articulated in this column are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer or any of their affiliates… And no, Harry Reid: The Koch brothers did not ghostwrite this.