YouTube political videos could be the next target for Federal Election Commission regulators.
FEC vice chair Ann Ravel, the leading Democrat on the nation’s campaign-finance regulator, suggested on Friday that the committee expand its reach to politically-themed online videos – something traditionally off limits to government scrutiny.
Republicans responded sternly, saying that such a move could pose a serious threat to Internet freedom.
“I have been warning that my Democratic colleagues were moving to regulate media generally and the Internet specifically for almost a year now,” FEC Chair Lee Goodman told Judson Berger of FoxNews.com. “And today’s statement from Vice Chair Ravel confirms my warnings.”
Ravel’s concerns arose from a case from September that involves a group running a series of pro-coal videos criticizing Democrats in 2012.
At first, the group was accused of failing to use the routine “disclaimers” for political ads, as well as not reporting the cost of the videos.
The group argued that since the videos were only on YouTube, they were exempt from the requirements.
The FEC dismissed the case after a split 3-3 decision along political lines — Democrats voted to continue, Republicans voted to drop the case.
In a written statement, Ravel was frank about her vote, saying rules that apply to TV ads also apply to online videos.
“As a matter of policy, this simply does not make sense,” she wrote.
Ravel called for a “re-examination” of the FEC approach to the Internet, adding that it was “long overdue.”
Berger writes that Berger said the commission “turned a blind eye” to the Internet’s role in politics.
“Since its inception, this effort to protect individual bloggers and online commentators has been stretched to cover slickly-produced ads aired solely on the Internet,” Ravel said, “but paid for by the same organizations and the same large contributors as the actual ads aired on TV.”
Ravel, who is set to lead the FEC next year, then promised to “bring together” experts from “across the spectrum” to examine the issue.
Republicans on the commission quickly pointed to a 2006 “Internet exemption” from FEC rules for free web videos.
Currently, Berger says, politically-themed videos posted on YouTube do not need disclaimers or require financial reporting.
Urging the public to weigh in on the issue through the FEC website, Goodman said the commission’s approach to online free speech “should be hands-off.”