Democrats on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) have taken their fight against media outlets such as Fox and the Drudge Report “underground,” says Lee Goodman, who is leaving the agency Friday after nearly five years on the panel.
“The debate has gone underground, it has not ceased,” said Goodman, who pointed to a campaign by FEC Democrats to remove long-standing media exemptions on fines and criminal charges for not policing whether or not political ads contained the proper disclaimers identifying their source.
In a memo about a recent case, for example, Goodman said that Democrats Ellen Weintraub and Steven Walther wanted to upend a long-standing practice of not holding media outlets responsible when political campaigns and advocates fail to include in ads the required disclaimer stating who paid for the ad.
In that case, two anti-Hillary Clinton ads were run in an Ohio newspaper, the Chesterland News, that did not carry the required disclaimer. FEC lawyers recommended no action against the paper, citing precedent that the person placing ads is responsible. –Washington Examiner
After the FEC lawyers gave the Ohio paper a pass, Weintraub proposed changing the practice – instead clearing the paper through a “discretionary dismissal” according to Goodman.
“Too often colleagues here and throughout the government wish to regulate core First Amendment rights through the exercise of ‘discretion,’ or ‘prosecutorial discretion.’ They rely on vague ‘facts and circumstances tests to decide when to punish and when to let a violation slide. Regulation by human discretion means an inherent risk of bias and unequal treatment.” Goodman told The Examiner.
While the effort to punish the Ohio paper was shot down in a split vote, Goodman says it’s yet one example of FEC Democrats pushing to regulate the media in “a renewed effort by some to change current law to impose civil and criminal liability upon traditional press organizations like Chesterland News, or to new media platforms like Facebook and Twitter…”
“It proposes to punish advertising platforms like NewYorkTimes.com and Facebook.com and DrudgeReport.com if they fail to publish the names of all Americans who want to discuss political subjects through paid ads on their platforms. Joe McCarthy would blush at a sweeping law that forces all American associations who want to speak and associate around political ideas to be named publicly” –Lee Goodman
Goodman says that the push to regulate conservative outlets has recently turned to Twitter and Facebook following allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election – which as we found out today, had zero impact.
Deputy AG Rosenstein: “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the [Russians’] conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.” https://t.co/oShWvKYDRW pic.twitter.com/IPXvuJDudg
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 16, 2018
In response to the FEC Democrats’ push to regulate, Goodman and other Republicans on the commission “fought to keep the media and internet free from regulation, through supported disclosures on paid advertising.”
“I have been concerned about all efforts to regulate the press — all press organizations and newsrooms and new media,” Goodman told The Examiner‘s Paul Bedard.
“First and foremost, more political speech is being published on the Internet, and for those who prefer greater regulation of politics, their regulatory attention will focus on the latest and most active forum for political activity, and that’s the internet,” he said.
“Second, those who desire greater regulation of political speech have decided to use the scare of a few Russian ads on Facebook as an excuse to restrict the free speech rights of millions of American citizens and American media and technology companies. I think the Russian excuse will fade as a justification to restrict the free speech rights of American citizens, just like the Red Scare of the 1950s eventually subsided. But there will always be an excuse invoked to regulate new media and Internet speech.”
Read Commissioner Goodman’s statement below: