Political Bloggers May Get Federal Protection


Bloggers would be largely immunized from hundreds of pages of confusing federal regulations dealing with election laws, according to a bill approved by a House of Representatives panel on Thursday.

Democrats had blocked an earlier effort last November to enact the legislation, which would amend federal campaign finance laws to give Internet publishers many of the same freedoms that newspapers and magazines currently enjoy.

"We don't expect bloggers to check with a federal agency before they go online," said House Administration Committee Chairman Vernon Ehlers, a Michigan Republican, referring to the Federal Election Commission. "They shouldn't have to read FEC advisory opinions (or have) to worry about running afoul of federal election laws."

The FEC is under court order to finalize rules to extend a controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet. Unless Congress acts, the final regulations could cover everything from regulating hyperlinks to politicians' Web sites to forcing disclosure of affiliations with campaigns.

But one group proposed restrictions for political blogs that cost more than $5,000. What about Democratic-leaning media outlets that cost $200 million?

The Center for Democracy and Technology has offered an alternative proposal (click here for PDF) that was not considered on Thursday. In some ways, it would be more censorial than the House bill because it would immunize a self-published political Web site only if the cost remained under $5,000.

But CDT's proposal appears to be less restrictive in other ways. Unlike the House bill, according to an analysis the group prepared, three friends who produce a video for $3,000 attacking a political candidate would not be required to register as a political action committee.