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Link to a political candidate a contribution to his campaign?


The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) is U.S. Congressional legislation which regulates the financing of political campaigns. It is also known as the McCain-Feingold law. It was carefully drafted NOT to include online press, commentary or blogs.This allowed people last year to direct visitors to the official Website of any presidential candidate without that link being considered a contribution to the campaign, a political activity or an illegal donation.


Also last year a federal judge ruled that many of the F.E.C. rules were too lax and specifically asked it to address the question of Internet activity:  The "exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines" the campaign finance law's purposes. So these days the Federal Election Commission is beginning the process of extending its controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the internet. One question will be, whether a Web page's link to a candidate's site constitutes a contribution. But how would that be calculated? (By law, contributions over $1,000 or services of an equivalent value must be made public).  The ideas on this are getting very bizare:

The FEC already has received an advisory opinion suggesting the value placed on a blog that praises a politician or links to a campaign website might be based on what percentage of the computer cost and electricity went to political advocacy.  


The campaign finance law has a press exemption, but it is unclear whether bloggers or online journals fit that description. Several news sources and blogs have specualted if the extension of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 could mean fines to sites that improperly link to official campaign sites or even the end of political blogs.

  • March 6, 2005: Kornblut, Anne, F.E.C. to Consider Internet Politicking, New York Times:
    Federal election commissioners are preparing to consider how revamped campaign finance laws apply to political activity on the Internet, including online advertising, fund-raising e-mail messages and Web logs."

  • March 3, 2005: McCullagh, Declan, The coming crackdown on blogging, CNet:
    In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site.

  • February 15, 2005: McCullagh, Declan, Political Web ads may be curtailed, CNet:
    "The Federal Election Commission plans to begin reviewing next month whether the Internet should continue to enjoy its privileged status as exempt from some of the stricter dictates of a 2002 campaign finance law."


On March 8 Sens. McCain and Feingold issued a statement:


"... The latest misinformation from the anti-reform crowd is the suggestion that our bill will require regulation of blogs and other Internet communications. A recent federal court decision requires the Federal Election Commission to open a new rulemaking on Internet communications. The FEC will be looking at whether and how paid advertising on the Internet should be treated, i.e., should it be treated differently than paid advertising on television or radio.... So far, the FEC has not even proposed new regulations... This issue has nothing to with private citizens communicating on the Internet. There is simply no reason - none - to think that the FEC should or intends to regulate blogs or other Internet communications by private citizens. Suggestions to the contrary are simply the latest attempt by opponents of reform to whip up baseless fears. BCRA was intended to empower ordinary citizens, and it has been successful in doing so. We will continue to fight for that goal."





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