FC: House will vote on bill to regulate online campaign advertising

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Wed Jul 11 2001 - 06:55:02 PDT

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       Mulling Reins on Net Campaigns
       By Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
       2:00 a.m. July 11, 2001 PDT
       WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote
       Thursday on a campaign finance bill that would, for the first time,
       regulate Internet advertisements and e-mails targeted at voters.
       The new rules aimed at online political activity are part of a
       Republican effort to overhaul U.S. election law that has received
       little scrutiny -- which, if enacted, would roil the fast-growing
       online campaign industry and impose obstacles on candidates' use of
       the Internet.
       Jonah Seiger, co-founder of Mindshare, a 16-person Internet consulting
       firm in Washington, said he understands why the legislation was
       written to cover "any communications" directed at voters, and not just
       traditional methods.
       "But I hope Congress would understand what they're doing," Seiger
       said. "The unintended consequences of sloppy legislation could make it
       more difficult to use the Internet and make it less effective as a
       political communications medium."
       On Thursday, the House will consider a campaign finance plan patterned
       after a bill backed by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) that the Senate
       has already approved. That proposal, H.R.2356, covers only political
       communications sent by broadcast, satellite, cable or the U.S. mail,
       and does not apply to the Internet.
       But the version that House Republicans will offer as an alternative is
       far broader in one important way: It regulates "any" paid
       communication -- including Internet communication -- that mentions a
       candidate for federal office. Anyone who makes such a communication,
       not just political parties or candidates, would be required to keep
       careful records and count online spending toward a $50,000 limit that
       would trigger a filing with the federal government.
       The bill's drafters say they intended to regulate the burgeoning world
       of Internet politics but predicted the legislation's impact would be
       Roman Buhler, counsel to the House Administration Committee, said
       "when we thought about the Internet we doubted that the cost of
       Internet messages, such as bulk e-mails, would rise to that level....
       It was our sense that bulk e-mails would not approach the $50,000
       threshold." (The bill does count e-mail spending toward the $50,000
       trigger point.)
       "A banner ad would be a form of mass communication, and they would
       have to disclose," Buhler said.
       Ken Nealy, a press secretary for bill sponsor Rep. Albert Wynn
       (D-Maryland), refused to speak on the record. When asked in person
       what effects the bill would have on the Internet, Nealy declared that
       the conversation was over and left the room.
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