Coalition urges FEC to delay decision on Internet political speech

Tuesday, January 11, 2000

A coalition of political groups has petitioned the Federal Election Commission urging it to delay regulating political speech on the Internet until after the 2000 general election.

“We strongly urge the commission to proceed cautiously because we believe that the onset of the 2000 elections does not afford the commission sufficient time to deal comprehensively with the complex and constitutionally significant issue of campaign-related speech on the Internet,” reads the petition signed by officials from the Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union, the People for the American Way and others.

The FEC, during a hearing last October, opened the issue of political speech on the Internet to public inquiry. The comment period ended Jan. 7.

In part, commissioners said that they would consider such questions as: In which situations should political advocacy on the Internet be regulated? Should individual political Web sites be subject to federal election laws? What value, if any, does a hyperlink have? Should corporate Web sites be barred from political commentary?

The questions arose after campaigners for presidential candidate George W. Bush asked if independent Web sites constituted campaign contributions. The commission postponed a decision until it heard from the public.

Yesterday, FEC officials continued to sort through more than 1,300 comments received through the regular mail and e-mail. Ron Harris, a spokesman for the FEC, said the response was “typical” for such an inquiry.

Harris said that the agency's next step would be to make the comments available to the public. He said he didn't know when the agency would address the issue of political speech on the Internet again.

The coalition urges the FEC to delay any decisions.

“Rather than compelling swift resolution of all issues, the impending election offers both a reason for caution and an opportunity for study,” the group's petition reads. “This election may represent a turning point in the use of the Internet.”

In the meantime, the coalition recommends that the commission “make it clear that the Internet speech of most individuals will be considered to fall below the threshold for (federal election) regulation.”