After a prior attempt by the Democratic members of the FEC to regulate election-related videos online, effectively granting the FEC power to silence Libertarian and Conservative-leaning websites like Drudge Report, failed after strong public outcry, the new head of the FEC has recently signaled her intent to push for greater regulations on political speech online.
Ann Ravel, the current head of the FEC, spokeduring a conference hosted by the Brennan Center for Justice, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and the Committee for Economic Development. When asked about regulating political activity on the internet, Ravel asserted it was under the “purview” of the FEC to oversee online political activities such as fundraising and donation-collecting.
“It would be under the purview of the FEC to look at some of the issues that arise in new media and the impact of new media, in particular with respect to disclosure and ensuring that there is no corporate contributions, for example excessive contributions or contributions to a particular candidates for example,” Ravel said.
This is not the only example of Ravel seeking to expand the regulatory power of the FEC to encompass political activity on the internet. In October, 2014, while Vice-Chair, Ravel sought to introduce regulations targeting online campaigns and videos, arguing, “a reexamination of the commission’s approach to the internet and other emerging technologies is long over due.”
The FEC Chairman at the time, Republican Lee E. Goodman, warned the Democrats on the FEC sought to use those proposed new powers target Conservative and Libertarian-leaning online media. “There are hundreds of thousands of blogs, websites, podcasts, webcasts, and I can’t image a regulatory regime where the federal government starts culling websites and YouTube posts on a daily basis to identify those that might not have registered and reported their expenditures,” Goodman told Fox News. “It really is a specter of a government review board culling the Internet daily. … I don’t know how we could begin to regulate all the hundreds of thousands of political commentaries online.”
Goodman had similar concerns earlier that year, arguing Conservative media like Drudge Reportand Sean Hannity were facing regulations similar to PACs. “The picking and choosing has started to occur….There are some in this building that think we can actually regulate [media]. And if that occurs, then I am concerned about disparate treatment of conservative media.”
The use of governmental regulations to silence political speech and identify political dissidents is something not unheard of in totalitarian societies, as well as societies that masquerade as free and open.
In Venezuela, eight people have been jailed over the last eleven months for tweeting messages the Socialist government under Nicolas Maduro found “offensive”. Charges for those imprisoned include conspiracy, instigating hatred to espionage, espionage and “causing anxiety.”
In supposedly Democratic Spain, the government recently adopted the “Basic Law for the Protection of Public Security,” condemned by rights organizations as an attempt to “gag” political speech. According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the law “introduces administrative sanctions, some very severe, aimed at dissuading citizens from expressing their concerns through public demonstrations. This law criminalizes new forms of collective action and expression that have developed in recent years, including escraches (‘demonstrations aiming at public denunciations’), sit-ins, ‘occupying’ public spaces, peaceful ‘surrounding’ of parliaments and ‘concerts of pots and pans’.”