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House: Political Web sites not exempt from spending rules

Associated Press
Published November 3, 2005


WASHINGTON - Online political expression should not be exempt from campaign finance law, the House decided Wednesday as lawmakers warned that the Internet has opened a new loophole for uncontrolled spending on elections.

The House voted 225-182 for a bill that would have excluded blogs, e-mails and other Internet communications from regulation by the Federal Election Commission. That was 47 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed under a procedure that limited debate time and allowed no amendments.

The vote clears the way for the FEC to move ahead with court-mandated rulemaking to govern political speech and campaign spending on the Internet.

Opposition was led by Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., who with Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., championed the 2002 campaign finance law that banned unlimited "soft money" contributions that corporations, unions and individuals were making to political parties.

"This is a major unraveling of the law," Meehan said.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said the federal government should encourage, rather than fetter, a phenomenon that was bringing more Americans into the political process.

"The newest battlefield in the fight to protect the First Amendment is the Internet," he said. "The Internet is the new town square, and campaign finance regulations are not appropriate there."

Without his legislation, Hensarling said, "I fear that bloggers one day could be fined for improperly linking to a campaign Web site, or merely forwarding a candidate's press release to an e-mail list."

[Last modified November 3, 2005, 01:07:13]


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