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The internet is becoming an unique and inexpensive tool for candidates to send out messages through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Now, The FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) wants to regulate these internet based medium and will solict input to “further define agency’s role and possible regulation”:

California’s independent political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission announced the creation of a subcommittee to gather information and solicit input regarding the role of electronic communication in political campaigns.  Commissioners Elizabeth Garrett and Timothy A. Hodson will conduct two public informational hearings, one in Northern California and one in Southern California, at times and locations to be determined. 

“Political campaigning has changed a great deal since the creation of the Political Reform Act, in 1974,” said Chairman Ross Johnson.  “We created this subcommittee to help the Commission determine if we should be doing more to help inform the public of who is paying to send out political messages.  The subcommittee will focus its efforts on examining the use of electronic political communication by those groups already regulated by the FPPC and required to file campaign disclosure forms.”

In 2000, the Legislature passed and Governor Davis signed AB 2720, authored by former Assembly Member Keith Olberg, which created the Bipartisan California Commission on Internet Political Activity.  That Commission conducted a study and issued its report in December 2003.

As traditional campaign media like slate mailers, direct mail flyers and advertisements – all of which are currently required by the Act to include disclosures of their source and financing – are increasingly replaced by email, tweets, websites and YouTube Videos, it is the responsibility of the Fair Political Practices Commission to evaluate and, if necessary and consistent with its statutory authority, adopt appropriate responses to new political realities.   Mindful of this, the FPPC is updating the work of the Bipartisan California Commission on Internet Political Activity.

The FPPC has no authority, or desire, to regulate the actions of individuals or groups who use the Internet for political purposes, so long as those individuals or groups do not raise or expend sufficient funds to trigger reporting obligations under the Political Reform Act.

Information on the work of the FPPC’s subcommittee on the Internet and Political Activity can be found on the Commission’s website here.

However, California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring says not so fast:

“The Internet remains largely free of government regulation, and I’m skeptical of any attempt by government to start regulating online content in the name of campaign finance.

“An attempt by government to impose restrictions on Facebook pages, tweets, websites hosted on servers elsewhere on the globe, and the like promises to be an exercise in futility.  Government will never be able to keep up with changes in online communications, and its attempt to do so will only have a chilling effect on political discourse.

“Rather than attempting to start regulating the Internet and online content, we will suggest the FPPC take a different approach, looking instead for opportunities to deregulate and decriminalize political speech, and embrace the wide open, fast-paced dialogue that is taking place online. 

“Taking a pro-regulatory approach will put government on a path to have to answer questions like:

  • When Twitter recommends a user follow another user who happens to be a candidate, does that constitute an in-kind contribution? Should Twitter force all of its customers to identify whether they are a candidate, or potentially a candidate?

  • When Facebook notes that some of a user’s friends have become fans of a candidate, and Facebook suggests that person be followed, is that also an in-kind corporate contribution to the candidate? That would be an illegal corporate contribution to any federal candidate. Does this mean Facebook needs to ask everyone if they are a candidate for federal office? What if the service is hosted on servers in a foreign country?

  • When candidates post online ads but are only charged once someone clicks on the ad, should the candidate still be required to post a ‘Paid for by’ disclaimer on the ad itself, or just on the page the ad links to?

  • Should individual messages on Twitter, which can only be 140 characters long, be required to include a ‘Paid for by’ message that may take up the entire message?

“California will never have enough bureaucrats to regulate online political speech, nor should it try to.”

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