It looks like the Online Freedom of Speech Act will not make it to the floor of the House any time soon. But don't shed a tear, Internet fans. This attempt to remove all the rules on Internet political speech was rendered moot by a decision this week by the Federal Election Commission. The FEC said that a vast majority of the political work done online should remain free from regulation.
NPR's political money-tracker Peter Overby was floored by the ruling and the process by which it came about. He says it was a stunning example of everything going... right.
The process was characterized by a tone of civility not usually seen inside the Beltway. Granted, that's a pretty low standard. But Overby says initially when talks began, the FEC and good-government groups had no understanding of bloggers — or much else about the Internet for that matter. Bloggers had no clue how campaign financing rules and regs worked. But somehow the two sides actually began to understand each other.
The core of the decision is a recognition that the Internet is a unique medium. In traditional politics, money buys influence. On the Internet, influence raises money. And a bunch of a little bloggers, each with a million readers, can have a big influence. But the FEC isn't worried about the little guy. As long as you aren't being paid by a campaign, nothing you do online will be considered a contribution. Only traditional paid political ads on Web sites are subject to the old campaign rules.
Overby says the FEC decision will guide politics for a long time. The commission peered into the near future — when kids with cell phone cameras are producing their own candidate ads, where political events can be mobilized by text messaging — and declared the new online activism protected speech.
So, you get the message folks. Let a million campaigns bloom.