There’s apparently a rift among officials at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over whether to pursue new regulations against privately owned media outlets that, through story selection and/or the tone of their reporting, promote a political ideology or favor political candidates.
The catch, of course, is that such scrutiny coincides with the recent rise of conservative media outlets — particularly Internet-based ones like the Drudge Report aggregator — to supplement the well-entrenched stranglehold that conservative talk shows now hold on the radio market.
FEC Chairman Lee E. Goodman, a 2013 Republican appointee of President Barack Obama, told Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard that “[t]here are some in this building that think we can actually regulate” media voices that offer a political slant, a possibility that makes him “concerned about disparate treatment of conservative media.”
Here’s more from the Examiner:
“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.”
The idea behind the new push for FEC regulation is simple, and completely unConstitutional: Treat conservative news organizations and aggregators like they’re part of the Nation’s campaign finance machinery and subject them to Federal elections laws. Of course, the FEC’s entire existence revolves around administering campaign finance laws targeted at political candidates and those who support them financially. The FEC was not conceived as a back-door 1st Amendment cop; and neither it, nor any other government entity, has the Constitutional authority to limit free speech.
Goodman has cautioned about the six-member FEC’s more sinister long-term intentions before, penning an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal earlier this year that cites specific examples of the FEC’s recent dalliance with media censorship:
David Gregory and George Stephanopoulos should be concerned. The same Federal Election Commission that represented to the Supreme Court that it could ban books now claims the authority to censor Sunday-morning news programs.
This startling assertion of government power became public in December when the FEC released an enforcement file in the case of a Boston television station’s regular Sunday-morning news program, “On the Record.” The station, WCVB, had invited two congressional candidates (a Democrat and a Republican) into its studio to appear on “On the Record” in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election and formatted the joint appearance as a 30-minute debate.
Another candidate (a libertarian) who was not invited filed a complaint alleging that the value of WCVB’s production costs and airtime constituted unlawful corporate contributions to the two candidates who were invited. Corporate contributions to federal candidates are illegal and people who make them face stiff fines, injunctions, and can even go to prison.
Although the FEC dismissed the Boston case, Goodman warned that the agency should not even be saddled with the power to arbitrate such issues.
“A decision to approve implies the power to disapprove,” he wrote. “And in the case of FEC regulatory authority over corporate contributions, the power to investigate, punish and even enjoin is the power to censor news programs like ‘On the Record,’ ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘This Week.’ The upshot of the WCVB decision is that every television newsroom must look over its shoulder whenever it invites two or more candidates to a joint appearance.”
Add to that Goodman’s concern that the FEC’s compulsion to regulate media is aimed squarely toward conservatives, and it’s evident that the commission’s progressive members have no problem with the Constitutional implications of a government enforcement agency exerting media control.
Goodman’s chairmanship expires in December, but his board tenure doesn’t expire until 2019. At least he’s willing to speak out.