The Federal Election Commission issued its final regulations on "Internet Communications" last year and those rules, which were vigorously supported by CFIF, largely leave the Internet alone as a free speech zone... YouTube to the Rescue (for Now)

Millions of "views" have already been logged for the most talked about advertisement yet in the 2008 presidential race.

More important, the ad cost almost nothing to make, required no air time to purchase, and is free for all with Internet access to see whenever they wish on YouTube.  That's why, most important, the ad can be played any hour of any day right up through the primary and general elections without running afoul of federal campaign finance laws.

The anti-Clinton pro-Obama ad, dubbed "Vote Different," steals liberally (no pun intended) from Apple's 1984 Super Bowl ad, which itself spoofed George Orwell's book "1984."  As described by the New York Times, the political ad "shows drone-like people marching and sitting at attention as [Hillary] Clinton speaks on a giant screen about her wish to have a 'conversation' with Americans about the future of the country.  It ends with a female athlete smashing the screen image of Mrs. Clinton with a hammer," leaving two messages: "On January 14th the Democratic primary will begin.  And you'll see why 2008 isn't going to be like '1984'." and "BarackObama.com."

If that ad had made its way onto television in the typical way -- with the ad's producer paying for commercial air time -- then it would have been subject to all kinds of federal campaign finance rules and regulations.  Indeed, because of the ad's all but certain express advocacy to vote for Senator Obama and against Senator Clinton, it's doubtful that groups like the Center for Individual Freedom could pay to run the ad on television at all using general treasury money.  That's not to mention any number of other issues the ad buy would raise -- political contribution, coordination, disclaimer, disclosure, and on and on.

Even assuming the ad did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, groups like CFIF still cannot use general funds to broadcast such messages on television (or radio) a month before the primary and two months before the general election when the ad dares to refer to a candidate.  That's thanks to the so-called "electioneering communication" provision of McCain-Feingold, that abomination of political regulation.

None of that currently applies to the Internet, however, at least so long as no fee was paid to post the video on another person's website.  The Federal Election Commission issued its final regulations on "Internet Communications" last year and those rules, which were vigorously supported by CFIF, largely leave the Internet alone as a free speech zone, so long as no money is changing hands.

As Rich Lowry has written for National Review Online, "[that] makes the video-sharing website a robustly unregulated - and thus invaluable - political marketplace."

Be that as it is for now, nothing in politics is forever.  Ryan Sager has thus written, in The New York Sun, "look for Congress to start taking an interest in 'unregulated' Internet speech any day now.  Money has never been the issue.  Cleansing our speech of impure thoughts about politicians is the real agenda."

You've now been encouraged, and you've been warned.  Be assured that Big Brother John McCain is watching you and he's far from done with "campaign finance reform," even if it's all for free.

March 30, 2007
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