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Targeting Political Speech for the Next Election

Ann-Ravel-WSJ-AP

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 constitutional-lawregulation 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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