Resolution in Opposition to Legislation Regulating Online Advocacy

Summary

In response to efforts by states to impose exceedingly broad reporting, recordkeeping, and disclaimer requirements on political speech and issue advertising on the Internet, the American Legislative Exchange Council resolves to oppose such efforts in order to preserve the Internet as a vibrant space for the free exchange of ideas.

Resolution in Opposition to Legislation Regulating Online Advocacy

WHEREAS, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right to the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and petition;

WHEREAS, the First Amendment’s preservation of free speech, press, assembly, and petition encourages the spread of information and open public debate, which is essential to a well-functioning democracy;

WHEREAS, the Internet enables Americans to come together to voice their opinions, seek out the views of others, learn about government, and join together with fellow citizens to support or oppose various causes;

WHEREAS, the Internet empowers individuals to express themselves in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago, is critical to the growth of grassroots and volunteer-led movements, and elevates new voices by offering the ability to spread ideas to a large audience at much lower cost than through traditional media;

WHEREAS, extensive reporting, recordkeeping, and disclaimer requirements for online political and issue advertising diminish many of the Internet’s unique benefits by imposing significant costs on both speakers and platforms, stifling speech about issues and campaigns, and often forcing speakers to consult an attorney before speaking, heightening burdens for smaller nonprofits in particular;

WHEREAS, many proposals to regulate online political and issue advertising would also subject nonprofit advocacy groups to member or donor disclosure requirements that violate Americans’ privacy and chill free speech through fear of harassment and intimidation;

WHEREAS, the majority of states already regulate paid advertising on the Internet by primarily political entities, such as candidates, political parties, and political committees;

WHEREAS, stringent regulation of online speech threatens to stifle future innovation of Internet platforms and advertising models used to speak about government and public policy;

WHEREAS, regulations designed for TV and radio are inflexible when applied to the Internet, especially as political and issue advertisements come in many different formats, sizes, and lengths, and many speakers lack the ability to comply with costly regulations;

WHEREAS, numerous states have considered and, in some cases, passed proposals to create or expand burdensome reporting, recordkeeping, and disclaimer requirements for political speech and issue advertising on the Internet by non-primarily political entities, like citizens and nonprofit groups;

WHEREAS, these proposals have been introduced in myriad forms, but often attempt to regulate “social media,” “qualifying paid digital communications,” or existing “electioneering communications” statutes;

WHEREAS, similar laws and regulations adopted in Maryland and Washington in 2018 have caused at least one major Internet advertising platform to temporarily suspend all political and issue advertising in those states to the detriment of potential voters;

WHEREAS, portions of the law adopted in Maryland in 2018 triggered a lawsuit against that state by eight newspapers distributed in Maryland;

WHEREAS, smaller platforms and speakers may never be able to afford the costs of complying with burdensome reporting, recordkeeping, and disclaimer requirements, consequently inhibiting future competitors and stifling Internet competition;

WHEREAS, the American Legislative Exchange Council supports an Internet free from needless or excessive regulation to ensure that Americans can effectively communicate with others and support the causes of their choice;

THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the American Legislative Exchange Council opposes legislative and regulatory efforts to expand reporting, recordkeeping, and disclaimer requirements for political speech and issue advocacy promoted online; and

THEREFORE, LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Legislative Exchange Council supports efforts to preserve an Internet free from needless or excessive regulation in order to promote free speech and a robust civil discourse.