WASHINGTON – The Federal Election Commission says Web logs just might be a threat to democracy and it's considering whether to police them.
The issue, being discussed during FEC hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, is whether some Web sites actually provide unregulated benefits to specific political campaigns. The famously free-spirited Web community is fighting back.
Click in the box to the right of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, author of Daily Kos Web Log, or blog, one of the nation's most heavily read political Web sites, says he wants Washington to back off.
"Any regulation presents a potential chilling effect on a medium that is truly the first democratic mass medium in the history of the world," Zuniga said.
Political Web sites like Daily Kos and Wonkette, to name two, have become influential political players by shaping voter perceptions and media coverage. Some also advertise products that benefit a political figure, party or point of view.
"Right now, it is largely a self-regulating community. It is also a pretty small community when you look at the number of people in America versus the number of bloggers. It is a pretty minute proportion," said Wonkette author Ana Marie Cox.
Web sites as political actors became an issue in Republican Sen. John Thune's (search) upset victory over then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Thune disclosed after the election that he paid two bloggers $35,000 to support Thune and attack coverage of the race by South Dakota's largest newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
"I do think the other thing that the Thune-bloggers-for-pay, blogolla let's call it, scandal probably did was make people much more weary," Cox said.
It also raised new fears that organizations seeking to lobby Congress or curry favor with politicians could use the Web to circumvent campaign finance laws.
"You don't want to force every blogger to go out and get a lawyer. At the same time, you don't want the Internet to become an avenue by which corporations, labor unions, wealthy individuals can pour a lot of money into political campaigns," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Historically, the FEC has left the Internet alone, but it is under a federal court order to apply some campaign finance rules to cyberspace. Commissioner Ellen Weintraub (search) said she favors more disclosure of Web site funding sources, but not much more.
"The commission generally is not terribly interested in anything other than a very limited rulemaking in this regard because it is a new technology, because it's still evolving," Weintraub said.
TV networks can broadcast and newspapers can publish hard-charging political editorials without violating campaign finance laws under a journalist exemption. Bloggers want to be included in the exemption, leaving the FEC to decide whether bloggers are journalists.