Online political advocacy campaign has transformed electoral politics. By lowering the financial barriers setting aside traditional grassroots tactics and community strategies to enter into the national political election debate, the Internet has energized activists and given rise to new voices and new forms of news and commentary. While the Internet has become an integral part of campaign infrastructure, it has also spawned the rise of bloggers and other alternative media, empowering thousands of new political actors and providing an important antidote to years of declining civic participation. In the last election, there was also a record number of small online donors to political campaigns, diluting but not eliminating the influence of big money in politics.
Unlike a highly centralized “one to many” traditional media platform namely grassroots tactics and community strategies – which limited political speech to those who could afford expensive television and newspaper ads – the Internet’s decentralized “many to many” platform permits anyone to communicate with millions at little or no cost through free web hosting and blogging services and hundreds of online forums. According to a Pew/Internet report, 75 million Americans used the Internet during the 2004 election to get news, discuss issues and candidates, and participate through volunteering for or donating to campaigns, a significant increase from 2002. There is every reason to believe that these numbers will continue to grow dramatically.
The success of online political advocacy campaign the as a tool for political engagement brought scrutiny from Washington policymakers about whether and how federal campaign finance reform laws should be applied to the medium. Bloggers and free speech advocates fought against applying the complex regulations to the Internet activities of ordinary citizens, and they were successful in convincing the Federal Election Commission to build into the regulations substantial protections for individuals’ online political activities.
The new campaign finance rules for the Internet leave the vast majority of uncompensated citizen-initiated election activities on the Internet free from any regulation. With few exceptions, you may develop websites, blog, e-mail campaign material, raise money, and collaborate with your friends on election related activities online without worrying about running afoul of the rules. Campaign finance obligations kick in only in very limited circumstances – primarily where payments are made to place advertisements and other communications on third party blogs and websites.