FEC zeroes in on e-politics
- By William Matthews
- Jan 09, 2000
From bumper stickers to campaign buttons to fund-raising banquets, the Federal
Election Commission regulates political campaigns, so FEC interest in the
fast-growing phenomenon of politics on the Internet was inevitable.
FEC lawyers, who focus mainly on the money that powers politics, are wondering
how to handle the Internet. They'll start to figure that out this week as
they review a stack of public comments on e-politics they sought during
a two-month period that closed Jan. 7.
Worried that the Federal Election Campaign Act, passed in 1971, may
be inadequate for the Internet Age, FEC commissioners asked for advice on
how to regulate issues such as:
n Should e-mail messages about candidates be treated as news or advertising?
And should the cost of producing and sending e-mail count against spending
n Does letting a candidate campaign in a chat room constitute making
a campaign contribution?
n Are hyperlinks that lead to candidates' World Wide Web sites the virtual
equivalent of in-kind campaign contributions?
n How can campaign donations received via the Internet be screened to
exclude prohibited aid, such as money from foreign nationals?
"There are no specific rules that apply to the Internet per se," said
FEC staff attorney Paul Sanford. For now, the FEC applies rules written
for newspapers, television, political action committees and political parties
to e-politics. And in many instances, the rules seem to work, Sanford said.
But in some areas, Internet technology may have outpaced the law.