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FEC chair warns of chilling regulations, book ban on conservative publishers

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Books,Paul Ryan,First Amendment,FEC,Media,Drudge Report

The chairman of the Federal Election Commission today blasted Democratic colleagues opposed to his effort to protect conservative media after they imposed rules on the publisher of Rep. Paul Ryan's new book, opening the door to future book regulations -- or even a ban.

“By failing to affirm this publisher’s constitutional right, statutory right, to disseminate a political book free from FEC conditions and regulations, we have effectively asserted regulatory jurisdiction over a book publisher,” warned Chairman Lee E. Goodman, one of three Republicans on the six-person FEC.

“That failure reveals a festering legal uncertainty and chill for the free press rights of books and book publishers to publish and disseminate political books free from government regulation,” he added.

His comments after the FEC OK'd Republican Ryan’s request to promote his new book, The Way Forward, were immediately and sharply rebuked by Democratic Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub. “No one is banning books,” she said.

Weintraub also hit Goodman for suggesting “that we are motivated by partisan bias, which is really not appreciated and untrue. I want to categorically deny that.”

The hard feelings continued after the morning session when Democrats on the commission refused to attend subsequent meetings, according to an insider.

And Goodman and the two other Republicans on the commission issued a six-page critique [below] of the commission's vote on the Ryan book that slapped the constraints imposed on the publisher and on how Ryan's re-election campaign and leadership political action committee, Prosperity Action, can promote the book on websites.

Since becoming chairman, Goodman has been pushing to expand protections for all media and has noted how Democrats on the panel have been eager to nick at freedoms for conservative media while Republicans have been voting for broader protections even for liberals like Democratic financier George Soros.

He recently warned that conservative online media, like the Drudge Report, could face regulation as Democrats move to tighten the so-called “media exemption” that lets the press cover politics any way they want.

In the case of the Ryan book, publisher Grand Central Publishing sought the broad media exemption from regulation, but Democrats rejected that and pushed for a different, commercial, exemption that imposes rules over the publisher’s politics and book pricing. Republicans went along and the commission approved that 6-0.

The commission also ruled that while Ryan can have his campaign and PAC buy books to give out, the promotion on his websites has to be limited to two sentences. There were concerns raised by Weintraub that Ryan was trying to profit off sales of the book promoted on his websites. Republicans carried that to victory in a 4-2 vote.

Goodman said the mixed decision for Ryan was another missed chance by the FEC to publicly show support for press freedom.

“This commission should stand up and recognize that books qualify for the media exemption and that book publishers can publish, market and disseminate their books on the same basis that the Washington Post, New York Times and Washington Examiner can,” he said.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.