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Political Speech in an Internet Age

Back in November 2008, President Obama rode to victory at least in part due to his campaign's ability to effectively harness the power of the Internet and social media. Yet nine months later, many state and local political candidates are stymied from exploiting the Internet in their campaigns due to archaic campaign rules that haven't kept pace with technology, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ focuses on the plight of Scott Wagman, a local businessman vying for the position of mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., in a 10-way race. Seeking low-cost ways to gain exposure in a crowded field, Wagman turned to the Web and social-networking sites. Wagman's campaign bought ads on Facebook, as well as Google ads that used his opponents' names as keywords.

Unfortunately for Wagman, what he intended as a low-cost campaign measure may wind up being a high-cost legal battle. The Florida Elections Commission determined that the ads violate state election law because they do not include a disclaimer indicating that Wagman's campaign purchased them. The campaign, however, contends that the disclaimers are not required because the subject communications are not ads, just links to campaign ads which include the required disclosures. In fact, the ads employ the same techniques used in last year's presidential campaigns -- but according to election experts, federal law is more flexible than many state laws.

For now, Wagman has pulled the ads and is deciding whether to admit to violating campaign laws or to challenge them on First Amendment grounds. Regardless of which route he takes, there's no doubt the surrounding publicity on Wagman's campaign means that he's gotten his money's worth from his Internet ads.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 3, 2009 at 03:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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