FEC zeroes in on e-politics

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

limits?

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.

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