Yesterday, TechFreedom filed comments to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on its proposal to “modernize” the agency’s campaign finance regulations by subjecting any online political communication “promoted for a fee” to disclosure and disclaimer requirements.

“The Internet has democratized mass communications, allowing each of us to speak our mind to an audience size once reserved for wealthy and powerful interests,” said Ari Cohn, TechFreedom’s Free Speech Counsel. “The FEC’s 2006 Internet Freedom Rule allowed regular citizens to engage in free online political speech without a regulatory Sword of Damocles hanging precariously over their heads. Now, ironically in the name of ‘modernization,’ the FEC appears ready to take a step backward.”

The FEC’s proposal risks subjecting much vibrant online political discourse to unwarranted regulation, as TechFreedom explained in its comments. Any user who monetizes their content through ads could find that they must now track and report expenses and issue disclaimers in their political communications. Anyone who pays to promote or boost their own political content to build their brand may find the same, even though the original content itself could not be regulated by the FEC. And organizations that produce free online political speech could now be subject to regulation simply because they hired a social media manager or an external vendor to actually produce the content.

“The FEC’s proposal imposes a regulatory burden on routine, everyday political speech online that all but the most sophisticated organizations will find unmanageable,” Cohn continued. “Campaigns and political committees are equipped for regulatory compliance, but individuals and organizations are ill-equipped to manage them, and the consequences for making mistakes can be severe.” Campaigns and political committees must already disclose their spending and issue disclaimers to safeguard against corruption and provide the public with necessary information. But overregulating online political speech by everyday citizens risks undoing the democratizing role that the Internet has played in political expression and harms our national interests.

“The regulations envisioned by the FEC would substantially chill the online political expression of ordinary citizens,” Cohn concluded. “The difficulties in determining whether and how their speech is regulated, together with the risks of making a mistake, will likely cause many to conclude that the price of engaging in political speech online is simply too high. The First Amendment protects this lifeblood of our democracy, and the FEC should think carefully before applying a tourniquet.”


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TechFreedom is a nonprofit, nonpartisan technology policy think tank. We work to chart a path forward for policymakers towards a bright future where technology enhances freedom, and freedom enhances technology.