by J.D. Tuccille
June 2, 2005

Letter to the FEC on Regulating Online Political Speech

Jerome D. Tuccille
(928) XXX-XXXX

To whom it may concern,

I'm writing in regards to the "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" for the extension of campaign finance restrictions to political speech on the Internet.

As a communications medium, the Internet is a great leveller. Political speech on the Internet, in the form of email, listservs, blogs and web publications is an activity in which anybody can engage with a minimum of resources. A web page by an individual may speak as loudly as a web page posted by a well-funded political organization or media business. More than any other medium, the Internet provides an arena in which all voices can, potentially, be heard.

Like many other Internet users, I publish political columns online, distribute commentary to newspapers and Web publications and engage in debate in online forums. I have no staff and little funding and maintain my Internet presence out of my pocket as a labor of love. I receive payment for some of my columns and activities, which may or may not make me subject to campaign finance rules.

That "may or may not" comment above is a key part of the problem of regulating online political activity. While a minimum of resources are required to publish or webcast across the Internet, the same cannot be said of navigating the sort of regulatory regime that is being discussed for online political funding and activity. Small organizations and individual bloggers are unlikely to have the knowledge necessary to navigate FEC regulations. Even before campaign finance rules are applied to the Internet, we hear of cases of small, grassroots political action committees running afoul of regulations and incurring massive fines. That problem can only be exacerbated on the Internet where grassroots operations are the rule rather than the exception.

Rather than risk crippling penalties for violating rules that professionals are paid to understand, many bloggers and small organizations are likely to abandon online speech entirely.

Other online publishers, balancing the overwhelming value of free speech against the burden imposed by byzantine regulations, will choose to channel their speech through off-shore organizations and servers to defy government restrictions. The result will be increased hostility toward the government and contempt for the law.

I urge you to drop plans for imposing campaign finance regulations on the Internet. As problematic as such regulations have been when applied to older media and traditional forms of political activity, they can only be disastrous when imposed on the free-wheeling Internet.

Jerome D. Tuccille

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and Iíll use your polished skull as a beer mug.