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CLC Urges FEC to Deny Internet-TV Station Exemption

If it walks like a partisan campaign operation and talks like a partisan campaign operation, it should not qualify for the press exemption from campaign-finance restrictions.

That's according to the Campaign Legal Center, which Monday asked the Federal Election Commission to rule that a proposed Internet-TV station did not qualify for the exemption.

The center's filing came in response to a request from self-described proposed Internet-TV station Melothe for a ruling from the FEC on whether, as described, the group would qualify for the exemption, and if it did, if it could also solicit funds on the part of the candidates it "covered."

Companies engaged in newsgathering do not have their expenditures for news coverage or commentary on a candidate counted as in-kind campaign contributions. The exemption from regulations on "contributions" to federal elections applies to "any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate," according to campaign law.

The press exemption has been expanded to include online-news operations, but the definition of news operation is not a bright line and the CLC said Melothe definitely crosses it.

Melothe told the FEC it would likely provide news coverage, features and editorials in support of only Democratic candidates but pointed out that it is not owned or controlled by a party or candidate. Melothe added that, if permitted, it would "consider" letting its commentators, guests and hosts solicit money for those Democratic candidates.

Then it should not get the press exemption, the CLC said, adding, "We submit that an organization whose apparent sole purpose is to be the functional equivalent of a partisan campaign operation -- to elect Democratic candidates and to solicit contributions for such candidates -- is not a “press entity” engaged in 'legitimate press functions.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.