Government officials, reacting to the growing voice of conservative news outlets, especially on the internet, are angling to curtail the media's exemption from federal election laws governing political organizations, a potentially chilling intervention that the chairman of the Federal Election Commission is vowing to fight.
“I think that there are impulses in the government every day to second guess and look into the editorial decisions of conservative publishers,” warned Federal Election Commission Chairman Lee E. Goodman in an interview.
“The right has begun to break the left’s media monopoly, particularly through new media outlets like the internet, and I sense that some on the left are starting to rethink the breadth of the media exemption and internet communications,” he added.
Noting the success of sites like the Drudge Report, Goodman said that protecting conservative media, especially those on the internet, “matters to me because I see the future going to the democratization of media largely through the internet. They can compete with the big boys now, and I have seen storm clouds that the second you start to regulate them, there is at least the possibility or indeed proclivity for selective enforcement, so we need to keep the media free and the internet free.”
All media has long benefited from an exemption from FEC rules, thereby allowing outlets to pick favorites in elections and promote them without any limits or disclosure requirements like political action committees.
But Goodman cited several examples where the FEC has considered regulating conservative media, including Sean Hannity's radio show and Citizens United's movie division. Those efforts to lift the media exemption died in split votes at the politically evenly divided board, often with Democrats seeking regulation.
Liberals over the years have also pushed for a change in the Federal Communications Commission's "fairness doctrine" to cut off conservative voices, and retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has delighted Democrats recently with a proposed Constitutional amendment that some say could force the media to stop endorsing candidates or promoting issues.
“The picking and choosing has started to occur,” said Goodman. “There are some in this building that think we can actually regulate” media, added Goodman, a Republican whose chairmanship lasts through December. And if that occurs, he said, “then I am concerned about disparate treatment of conservative media.”
He added, “Truth be told, I want conservative media to have the same exemption as all other media.”
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.