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The California Fair Political Practices Commission
The California Fair Political Practices Commission
Previously, on the Wild, Wild Internet: The FEC threatens to regulate blogging in early 2005; we fight back in a multi-pronged war; we win, as the FEC establishes guidelines which fundamentally treat the online world no differently than offline speech, providing parity between online and offline publishers. And from 2006-2013, everyone leaves us alone, and political speech is not, in fact, taken over by Halliburton nor evil foreigners. The world moves on.

Except in California, where Thursday its Fair Political Practices Commission adopted new regulations regarding paid political speech online:

Under new rules approved Thursday, the state hopes to help Californians determine whether political material they read online is a writer's own opinion or propaganda paid for by a campaign.

Campaigns will now have to report when they pay people to post praise or criticism of candidates and ballot measures on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other websites. [...]

The regulations require disclosure by campaigns that pay someone $500 or more to post positive or negative content on Internet sites not run by the campaigns. In periodic spending reports required by the state, the campaigns would have to identify who was paid, how much and to which website or URL the posting was made.

Campaigns may skip such reports for posts identified on the website as paid for by a campaign. An example given by the commission was: "The author was paid by the Committee to Re-Elect Mayor Jane Doe in connection with this posting."

Learn more below the fold.

San Luis Obispo Tribune:

Another FPPC lawyer, Zackery Morazzini, said the new reports would help the public discern between genuine opinions and campaign material.

"What the commission's concern is, is people thinking they're reading a neutral posting when in fact it's the furthest thing from it -- the individual is getting paid to sway a voter one way or another," Morazzini said. [...]

Democratic campaign consultant Steven Maviglio, who writes for the California Majority Report blog and has been working with the FPPC on the regulations for more than a year, said he was unhappy with the final product.

"The goal has always been righteous. Implementation is going to be an avalanche of paperwork that is unenforceable," he said.

"Technology is going to leave this regulation behind before the next election season begins."

The new regulations are here.  A few reactions:

1. What, exactly, is the problem that this is intended to solve? Has California state and local politics been overrun by covert, deceptive online activity? Are citizens bamboozled on a regular basis?

2. Why limit such regulations to bloggers? If someone is paid to speak on behalf of a campaign and does so through letters to the editor or TV appearances, don't citizens have an equal right to know about it?

3. Ann Ravel, chair of the Commission, is the Dem nominee for a Federal Election Commission vacancy.  I don't have a strong opinion on this; just pointing it out.

4. On the bright side, at least this regulation only requires action on the part of the campaign which is making such expenditures, and not on the individuals being paid by campaigns. On its face, these regulations don't require everyone to lawyer up, and it doesn't necessarily chill online speech—which the draft FEC regulations absolutely would have done.  

But it's still a solution in search of a problem. There are a lot of issues dealing with the role of money in politics which legislators and regulators ought to be addressing, with the goal of reducing the corrupting influence of amassed wealth on elections. This wasn't one of them.

Originally posted to Adam B on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 09:34 AM PDT.

Also republished by Los Angeles Kossacks, California politics, and Daily Kos.

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