Online Freedom of Speech Act – FAILED

The US House of Representatives was unable to muster enough votes yesterday to pass House Resolution 1606, more commonly known as the Online Freedom of Speech Act. The resolution would have exempted political blogs like this one as well as email communications from FEC campaign finance regulations. The house rules require a 2/3 majority for passage but the bill failed by a count of 225/182 with 26 not voting.

The vote in effect clears the way for the FEC to move ahead with court-mandated rule-making to govern political speech and campaign spending on the Internet.

What exactly does this mean for political discourse on the internet? To be honest, I am not quite sure. At this point it would seem that the failure of this legislation could clear the way for the FEC to prevent bloggers from linking to campaign websites or publishing campaign press materials for fear of being fined. More likely it would keep campaigns themselves at arms length from bloggers for fear of anything resembling support being counted against their campaign finance tallies.

Lastly, and most important to those bloggers that have been lucky enough to have profited from advertising (this site not being one of them), it would lower the number of ads campaigns purchase on political blogs. This makes sense to me since an ad is an ad regardless of whether it appears on television, radio, in print or on a blog. According to ABC News:

FEC commissioner Scott E. Thomas said at the September hearing that some $14 million was spent on Internet ads in the 2004 campaign.

A federal court last year, amid the escalation of political activity on the Internet, instructed the FEC to draw up regulations that would extend federal campaign finance and spending limits to the Web.

All of that said, I have a few questions that I would like answered. How exactly will the FEC regulate political speech in the blogosphere? Will they treat every post on every little blog as if it were a campaign ad? Will they differentiate between “professional bloggers” such as Daily KOS and the likes of us here at CFLF, otherwise gainfully employed citizens with an unusual – possibly unhealthy [snark] – obsession with politics?

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