The Federal Election Commission has deadlocked on the issue of whether to regulate political videos on YouTube. The incident is at least the third time since the beginning of the year that commissioners have failed to agree on whether they should regulate the Web.
The issue involved a right-leaning group, the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America, that posted YouTube videos last year critical of Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul's position on the Iranian nuclear deal. A complaint was filed arguing the group should have been forced to disclose the videos to the FEC. The agency's three Democratic commissioners voted to impose sanctions on the group for failing to disclose the videos, while the commission's three Republicans voted against punishing the group.
The file on the matter was made public Friday, but opinions were not released until Monday. Democratic Commissioner Ann M. Ravel, who served last year as FEC chair and who has made disclosure of content on the Internet a cornerstone of her tenure there, said it was time for the feds to get serious about watching over the legions of people who use the Internet to consume information.
"Voters consume information differently than they did even one or two election cycles ago," Ravel wrote. "It is our job as a commission to learn about these issues and discuss them, not only amongst ourselves as policymakers, but with members of the public and the regulated community, too.
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"The commission itself will be outmoded if it fails to study and consider these issues," Ravel added. "Consistent with its purpose, the commission should open its doors to hear from outside experts, technologists, activists, voters and others about modem campaigning and its opportunities."
Shortly after she became the chair of the agency, Ravel drew fire for attempting to do just that by holding a taxpayer-funded forum on the matter in February 2015. After the Drudge Report linked to a story about the issue and the implications that regulation would have for it and other political sites, more than 5,000 people submitted comments against regulation, and the matter was dropped.
That has not stopped Democrats on the agency from voting to go forward with new regulations. The commission similarly deadlocked in a February 2016 vote over whether political users on Twitter should be regulated, and in a July vote over whether to regulate an online political chatroom that would be sponsored by big tech companies.
Ravel has been joined in those votes by the agency's other two Democratic commissioners, Steven T. Walther and Ellen L. Weintraub. The agency's three Republicans include Lee E. Goodman, Caroline C. Hunter, and this year's chairman, Matthew S. Petersen.
The last time commissioners agreed on an Internet-related issue was October 2015, when it involved letting President Obama off the hook. A complaint then alleged that a foreign national registered a website that supported Obama, and that it gained traffic from "hundreds" of outside links. Commissioners voted 6-0 to affirm that they did not wish to regulate the website.