SACRAMENTO — The state campaign watchdog agency acted Thursday to require political campaigns to report when they pay people to post favorable or unfavorable content on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission acted out of concern that the public might be deceived into thinking paid content on blogs that praises or criticizes a candidate is objective political commentary.
"The public is entitled to know who is paying for campaigns and campaign opinions, so the weight to be given to the views can be evaluated by voters," said Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel.
But ever since the proposal to regulate the field was first made two years ago, it has stirred outrage in the blogosphere from some who feel the panel is infringing on free-speech rights.
The new rules, which follow the lead of Maine, were endorsed by open-government groups including Consumer Watchdog for putting “sunshine” on a new and growing field of political communications.
“It’s about ensuring that the voting public knows that paid bloggers … should be viewed through the same prism as political advertisement and direct-mail pieces, and not simply as purveyors of objective news,” Daniel Palay, a spokesman for Consumer Watchdog, told the panel.
The new rule requires disclosure by campaigns that pay someone $500 or more to post favorable or unfavorable content on Internet sites not run by the campaigns. The campaign’s periodic finance report would have to identify who is paid, how much and to which website or URL the posting was made.
That reporting is not required if the blog or website itself identifies the content as paid for by a campaign.
Steve Maviglio, a sometime campaign operative and blogger, told the panel that the rules are unclear and unworkable.
“I don’t think it's fair for those of us who work on campaigns to spend our time talking to your lawyers to understand what it is,” said Maviglio, who works for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), private clients and blogs on the website California Majority Report.
He said the rules could be read to apply to people who are blogging on their own time after spending their days working on a campaign. Ravel said the rules only apply when someone is paid specifically to post content.
Maviglio also questioned how a campaign can report where content is posted if someone hired by the campaign tweets a message and it ends up on dozens of websites.
FPPC officials said they would ease into enforcement.
“We certainly, as with everything else, will be sure that it is enforced in a reasonable, thoughtful way,” Ravel said.
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