Today’s do-it-yourself commentary websites on the Internet became the focus of a ruling by the Iowa board that carries out the campaign laws and oversees the candidates. Charlie Smithson is Director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. He explains they were asked to review a “blog,” one person’s anonymous opinions posted to a site critical of some local issues in Burlington.
Smithson says all published political materials have to include the name of the person who paid for them, and in some cases the address too, if it was done by a registered political committee. Some people who blog, or post their opinions for the world to see, put lots of personal information on them, but some prefer to remain anonymous, especially if their material is controversial. This one was anonymous.
The blog, titled “Burlington Derailed,” talks about issues affecting that eastern Iowa city and the surrounding area. The issue in this case was that an item posted on the blog advocated for and against candidates for a city council race. Smithson explains, “The owner of the blog, who calls himself ‘Spike,’ said ‘vote yes on these candidates and vote no on these candidates’ and a complaint was filed.”
But the board ruled that the owner of the site won’t be forced to come out and reveal his real identify after all. When the board looked at the decisions in other states and at court cases, Smithson says they’d decided blogs pretty much cannot be regulated unless there’s paid political advertising on them or if the blog is in some way controlled by a candidate or a campaign committee. He says the Internet in general has been pretty much free from attempts to regulate it, and the Federal Election Commission has given up a few moves to try and do that.
Smithson says the author of this blog was pretty confident in his position. He’d told the regulators during the investigation that he wasn’t a candidate for any office, and his blog wasn’t controlled by any campaign. Smithson says the board is going to adopt some administrative rules that clarify that the campaign laws will apply if a blog contains paid political advertising or is controlled by a candidate or any kind of campaign committee.
“If you’re truly just an individual out there posting your opinions on a blog, for better or worse, the campaign laws are not going to apply.” Smithson says the ethics board applies campaign laws to direct mail and other political advocacy, and with more people all the time using the Internet he wonders if it’ll continue to “get a free pass.”
Related web sites:
Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board