The director of California's political watchdog agency is shelving her proposal to require bloggers to disclose payments they receive from political campaigns.
Chairwoman Ann Ravel of the Fair Political Practices Commission said she remains committed to holding public debate over mandatory disclosure with the hope that a plan could emerge in the future.
Meanwhile, Ravel said she wants to seek voluntary disclosure by bloggers for the November election, though she conceded, "I don't think there's going to be a large amount of voluntary disclosure."
To supplement voluntary disclosure, Ravel said she may ask the FPPC to consider requiring political candidates to publicize in a distinct format any money they pay to bloggers and provide a link to that information on their website.
Candidates already are required to disclose payments to bloggers as a campaign expenditure, but the information typically is contained in a long list of expenses and is easily overlooked by voters.
By contrast, mandatory disclosure would have created an entirely new category of disclosure, by bloggers themselves, that readers could have monitored on websites publishing their commentary or opinions.
Ravel's initial vow to seek mandatory disclosure, announced at an FPPC seminar last month, drew plenty of attention for targeting a medium known as a bastion of anything-goes free speech.
Ravel said today that backing off the mandatory disclosure plan was partly a response to opposition by bloggers and others who claim it could have a chilling effect on free speech or political discourse.
"I haven't totally given up on the thought," Ravel said. "I think it may well be that after a lot of public input and discussion, it's still something that could occur."
Ravel characterized herself as shelving the mandatory plan, but not killing it.
Even if Ravel had sought a vote on mandatory disclosure, she was likely to find the issue controversial among the FPPC board.
Commissioner Ron Rotunda, for example, said last month that mandatory disclosure "raises a free speech issue." He also noted that an FPPC subcommittee had considered the issue in years past but opted not to pursue it.
Other critics say the issue of mandatory disclosure is very complex, for example:
Could a blogger evade disclosure by working for a consultant, not the campaign itself? What value should be reported for a hyperlink from one website to another? Would disclosure be required if a candidate responded to a favorable blog post by later buying advertising on the site?
Nonetheless, Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, applauded the notion of mandatory disclosure last month.
"I think people should have the right to say whatever they want, in any format, on any platform, unless they're being paid by someone else to make those comments," she said. "And if that's happening, you need to identify who you are and who your donors are."