NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Prior Restraints · Nov. 22, 2005
FEC says political Web log exempt from campaign law
Nov. 22, 2005 · The Federal Election Commission recognized the partisan Web log Fired Up! as a press entity that is allowed, like journalists, to cover and comment on political candidates without their positive comments being counted as campaign expenditures.
The FEC unanimously approved Advisory Opinion 2005-16 Thursday in response to a request from the blog’s organizers concerning the application of the finance rules to sites owned and operated by Fired Up! The five-member commission adopted the proposed draft opinion without revision.
Fired Up! consists of three state-specific Web blogs for Maryland, Missouri and Washington, and one covering national issues, each comprising a mix of editorial postings, quotes and commentary from other news sources, and links to various articles or other blogs.
The FEC opinion is based on a long-standing two-part test. To qualify for the exemption under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, the FEC considers whether the press entity is owned or controlled by a political party, committee or candidate and examines the intentions behind the organization’s actions to determine if it is performing “legitimate press functions.”
Despite its political slant and progressive content, Fired Up! met both qualifications, the FEC found. Because “Fired Up! is a press entity, and neither it nor its Web sites are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate, the costs Fired Up incurs in covering or carrying a news story, commentary, or editorial on its Web sites are exempt from the definitions of ‘contribution’ and ‘expenditure.”
The opinion also notes that a press organization would not lose its eligibility because of a lack of objectivity in its content, so even biased stories can fall within such a media exemption.
“Would be Web-publishers ought to be encouraged to add their voice to the public debate, and not be intimidated by the threat of FEC fines for illegal campaigning,” Robert Niles, the editor of Online Journalism Review, posted on the Web site the day the ruling was issued. “Here’s hoping today’s ruling does that.”
(FEC Advisory Opinion 2005-16) — KT