Ann Ravel Talks to Cyber Law and Business Report About Blogger Guidelines
California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has adopted a proposal that would require either reporting payments made to bloggers or disclosing that payments were made in conjunction with the blog or video post. The proposal is based largely on the FTC approach to Dotcom Disclosures and blogger endorsements.
In May 2012, I spoke with Ann Ravel, FPPC Chairwoman (who yesterday was confirmed as President Obama’s choice to be the Chair of the Federal Elections Commission) about this proposal (which at the time was considered a lead trial balloon). The interview and related CLBR blog post is below.
“In order for people to really know whether they can have faith and trust in the independence of recommendations they are receiving, they have to be aware” of any payments, she said.
Currently, campaigns are required to report to the state any payments they make to Internet sites. But they can hide such a connection by writing checks to consultants who then pay the blogger. Also, disclosure of payments need not be made on the blog or website where a reader can easily see it.
Ravel wants any blogger who touts a position on a candidate or ballot measure to disclose on the blog any payments from those involved in the political contest. That would include the many anonymous bloggers and website operators, she said.
California ethics czar urges disclosure of payments to Web pundits, Los Angeles Times (April 20, 2012)
Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine of CalBuzz, who are the only bloggers to interview Ravel on the subject, wrote on Monday, “We’re happy to report, after our conversation, we think she agrees with us that the best way to confront secret payments to websites that propagandize for their retainers lies in stricter, more timely and precise reporting of campaign expenditures.”
Critics of the state’s regulatory agency are less optimistic and warn that the proposal is a first step toward more regulations of political speech.
“This means a lot more than the issue at hand; it means the first of many additional steps to regulate political speech,” said Jonathan Wilcox, a communications consultant and form,er speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. “Given the troubling political practices just in Sacramento, some will wonder if the FPPC could catch a speeding driver at the Indy 500.”
Chandra Sharma, the publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily, complained about the agency’s bad track record with new technology.
“The FPPC’s attempts to regulate online political speech over the past few years have been badly conceived and ill-informed,” he said. “This is yet another example of the FPPC attempting to regulate a medium it doesn’t understand, and as others have already noted, they haven’t even begun to realize the kind of unintended consequences that would manifest themselves as a result.”
Calif. blog regulations could hit Drudge, citizen journalists, Cal Watchdog (April 25, 2012)
Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, announced earlier this month her intention to pursue regulations of bloggers that are funded to advocate for or against candidates. “Ultimately I’d like to see the FPPC require it,” Ravel declared at an April 19 campaign finance conference in Sacramento, the Orange County Register reported. After listening to bloggers’ concerns, Ravel now says that that she will be looking for other ways to inform the public about any potentially biased online sources.
“There are probably insurmountable complexities to making them mandatory,” Ravel told CalWatchDog.com while on vacation in South America. “As opposed to asking the bloggers to do it on their sites, which is the most effective option for the consumer, it may be more reasonable and less problematic to require that we get an isolated accounting from the committees” for the campaigns.
“The committee should have the obligation, but not the blogger or the news media,” she added.
In addition to greater itemization of campaign committee payments, Ravel discussed a voluntary disclosure process for voters to verify with the FPPC that a blog or website does not receive campaign funds.
“Most people get [campaign] information from the Internet, and it should be known to them if people are getting paid,” she said.
FPPC chair backs away from mandatory disclosure of blogger payments, Cal Watchdog (April 30, 2012)
About the FPPC
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) was created by the Political Reform Act of 1974 (Act), a ballot initiative passed by California voters in 1974 as Proposition 9. To meet its responsibilities under the Act, the Commission adopts and amends regulations. It also develops required forms, prepares manuals and instructions, aids agencies and public officials with record keeping and reporting, and maintains a central file of statements of economic interests (SEI) for certain state and local officials. The Commission also investigates alleged violations of the Political Reform Act, imposes penalties when appropriate, and assists state and local agencies in the development and enforcement of conflict-of-interest codes. In an effort to reduce these violations, the FPPC educates the public and public officials on the requirements of the Act and provides written and oral advice to public agencies and officials and conducts seminars and training sessions. The FPPC regulates:
- campaign financing and spending
- financial conflicts of interest
- lobbyist registration and reporting
- post-governmental employment
- mass mailings at public expense
- gifts and honoraria given to public officials and candidates
Commission Chair Ann Ravel is the Chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, appointed by Governor Brown in March of 2011. Prior to her appointment she served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Torts and Consumer Litigation in the Civil Division of the United States Department of Justice. Most of her career was as an attorney in the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office, ultimately serving as the appointed County Counsel from 1998 until 2009. As County Counsel, she represented the County and its elected officials, provided advice on the Political Reform Act, and initiated groundbreaking programs in Elder Abuse Litigation, Educational Rights, and Consumer Litigation on behalf of the County and the community. Ravel has served as an elected Governor on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California, as a member of the Judicial Council of the State of California, and as the Chair of the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation.In 2007 she was named by the State Bar of California as the Public Attorney of the Year for her contributions.
- “Public trust in government is at an all-time low,” she told us. “Our goal is to make information about who is paying for campaigns available in an immediate, accessible and organized way that is useful for voters in understanding and demystifying the political process.”
- “There are probably insurmountable complexities to making them mandatory,” Ravel told CalWatchDog.com while on vacation in South America. “As opposed to asking the bloggers to do it on their sites, which is the most effective option for the consumer, it may be more reasonable and less problematic to require that we get an isolated accounting from the committees” for the campaigns. “The committee should have the obligation, but not the blogger or the news media,” she added.