On Wednesday, Paul Bedard reported at Washington Examiner that the three Democrats on the Federal Election Commission voted in secret to punish Fox News for its sponsorship of a GOP debate, using what he called “an obscure law to charge the network with helping those on stage.”
It is the first time in history that members of the FEC voted to punish a media outlet’s debate sponsorship, and it follows several years of Democratic threats against conservative media and websites like the Drudge Report.
The punishment, however, was blocked by all three Republicans on the commission, resulting in a 3-3 tie vote and no action.
A Republican FEC commissioner leading that fight, Lee E. Goodman, revealed the vote to Secrets Wednesday and said the official report of the May 26 executive vote will be released Thursday.
“The government should not punish any newsroom’s editorial decision on how best to provide the public information about candidates for office,” Goodman said. “All press organizations should be concerned when the government asserts regulatory authority to punish and censor news coverage.”
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Bedard explained that the problem stemmed from the August 6 Fox debate. The network initially planned to host one debate featuring 10 candidates, but as the date got close and the field consisted of nearly two dozen candidates, Fox added a second debate featuring seven other candidates.
“One of the candidates left out filed a complaint to the FEC, charging that Fox was essentially making a contribution to the 17 candidates by letting them have a voice in the debate,” Bedard said.
Oddly enough, CNN did the same thing, but there’s no indication a complaint was filed over that.
In his statement to Bedard, Goodman said:
A complaint was filed with the FEC alleging that Fox News’ editorial decision to expand the debate from one debate to two debates, and to include 7 candidates in the undercard debate, constituted an illegal corporate contribution by Fox News to the candidates who participated in the debate. The FEC had to decide whether to enforce the corporate contribution ban against Fox News.
Astonishingly, three FEC commissioners (Weintraub, Ravel, Walther) concluded that Fox News violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by making a prohibited corporate contribution to the 7 candidates invited to the debate. That is, by expanding the debate format to a broader group of candidates, Fox News violated the law.
Three FEC commissioners (Lee Goodman, Matthew Petersen, Caroline Hunter) blocked this regulatory overreach into newsroom editorial judgments. Commissioners Petersen and Hunter and I voted to free Fox News’ editorial judgments from the FEC’s regulatory jurisdiction under the Free Press Clause of the Constitution and the Press Exemption in the Federal Election Campaign Act. Congress included in the Act an explicit exemption for the press and we respect Congress’ decision.
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