Targeting Political Speech for the Next ElectionPosted: November 5, 2014
Mr. Rotunda is a law professor at Fowler Law School, Chapman University, the co-author, with John Nowak, of “Treatise on Constitutional Law” (Thomson Reuters, fifth edition, 2013), and a former commissioner of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (2009-13).
Ronald D. Rotunda writes: What Talleyrand once said of French royalty applies to Ann Ravel, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission: She has “learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” Ms. Ravel appears to be dreaming of imposing on the nation what she was unable to impose on California—the regulation of political speech on the Internet.
“The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and of the press equally—and the government cannot constitutionally discriminate against some forms of speech in favor of others.”
[Check out Ronald D. Rotunda’s book “Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies, 4th Edition” from Amazon]
In April 2012, when Ms. Ravel was chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (a state agency comparable to the FEC) and I was a commissioner, she announced that the commission would issue regulations governing political speech on the Internet. The rules, she said, would even govern bloggers outside the state. Californians raised a fuss and her efforts got nowhere.
“The Federal Election Commission exists solely to protect the public against potential corruption of public officials. It has no authority to regulate pure political speech, which is what the Web does: It disseminates pure political speech.”
Now she’s back, and in a more powerful position in Washington. The FEC already regulates paid Internet advertising, but free Internet posts are exempt from campaign-finance regulations. On Oct. 24 Ms. Ravel stated that in doing so “the Commission turned a blind eye to the Internet’s growing force in the political arena.” She said that a “re-examination of the Commission’s approach to the Internet and other emerging technologies is long overdue,” and vowed to hold hearings next year on the matter—a clear hint that the goal is to remove the regulatory exemption for free online political speech.
In California, Ms. Ravel wanted to require Internet commentators to post any financial connections between them and the policies or politicians they support or oppose, in order, she said, “for people to really know whether they can have faith and trust in the independence of recommendations they are receiving.” Yet California law already requires campaigns to publicly report any payments they make to Internet sites as campaign expenditures.
Before Ms. Ravel became chairwoman, the California commissioners investigated whether there was a problem with so-called dark money on the Internet. We held hearings, and the bipartisan group of commissioners found nothing warranting regulation. But Ms. Ravel insisted that there was a problem, and claimed that bloggers admitted to her that they receive undisclosed funding from partisan interests. That sounded ominous, and reporters asked…(read more)
- FEC vice chairwoman says campaign finance should be like a box of cereal (watchdog.org)
- PHOTOS: Gearing up for competition in the Capitol Rotunda (state-journal.com)
- Lessons In How to Smear Conservatives (powerlineblog.com)
- SCOTUS Strikes Down Cap on Aggregate Political Contributions (nationalreview.com)
- “Saying mean things about Democratic Presidents is not news.” (legalinsurrection.com)
- Get ready to debate federal regulation of political speech online… again (hotair.com)
- Regulation Power Play: The Chill is On (punditfromanotherplanet.com)