Politics and the Internet

One of the topics I intend to cover on this blog is the use of the internet and social media in politics.  I must confess I am still learning the subject, but it is one that every student of politics must understand and appreciate.

Every election cycle witnesses the emergence of a new technology that changes the topography of the political landscape.  In 2008, social media such as Facebook and MySpace were breakthrough technologies.  Currently, Twitter is the new technology.

Equally interesting to me are the people who manage the internet operations for candidates, political party committees, and issue advocacy groups.  They are the folks who seek new vehicles to engage the public about issues and candidates.  Here is an article about a presentation made by one of the Obama campaign’s operatives on the use of the internet and social media in the 2008 presidential election.  Here is another article that highlights the use of the internet and email by one group to organize opposition to the current health care reform proposals.

FEC Coordination Rules and the Health Care Reform Debate

The Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) coordination rules impact the communication activities of federal campaigns, political party committees, and issue advocacy groups.  These rules govern the types of communications that may be subject to regulation and enforcement by the FEC, including whether and how federal campaigns, political party committees and issue advocacy groups may interact concerning their communications.  In many instances, these rules drive a wedge between these different political actors.  The FEC must amend these rules after losing a court battle with members of the pro-regulation community who sued the agency asking the court to order the FEC to adopt more restrictive coordination rules.

At a recent FEC open meeting, one of the Commissioners indicated that the FEC intends to publish in the near future a notice of proposed rulemaking amending its coordination rules.  If this happens, this rulemaking will be one of the most important projects undertaken by the FEC this year.  It’s also worth noting that any rules adopted by the FEC at this late date in the 2009/2010 election cycle will not take effect until later this year or early 2010 – an election year.  This may cause the rules of the political game to change mid-way through the election cycle, which means many political actors may need to alter their plans to comply with the new rules.

So why post on this issue now?  The New York Times ran a story this morning concerning the amount of money that both sides of the health care reform debate have spent on grassroots activities and paid media such as television ads.  If this legislative issue is not resolved this year and extends into the 2010 election year, any changes to the coordination rules (and even the existing coordination rules) may create compliance headaches for all stakeholders in this debate.  (BTW – there are many other legislative issues that may not be resolved this year including reform of the financial system, environmental legislation, and others.)  In short, conditions may be ripe for a collision at the difficult intersection of political speech and the FEC’s coordination rules.  Time will tell.


Welcome to ExpressAdvocacy.com.  I hope this blog will add a meaningful perspective to the debates on federal campaign finance, election administration, lobbying, and congressional and executive branch ethics developments and issues.

For some time, the on-line debate concerning these issues has been dominated by stakeholders and academics that believe political activities and communications should be subject to greater regulation.  Any regulation of these activities and communications must take into consideration the vital First Amendment rights of the groups that and individuals who wish to participate in the political marketplace.  The political debates concerning government policies and the officeholders and officials who shape such policies must be robust and wide-open.

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