Capitol Alert

Ann Ravel describes backlash to comments on online political communication

Ann Ravel, in 2012.
Ann Ravel, in 2012. The Sacramento Bee

As head of California’s political watchdog agency two years ago, Democrat Ann Ravel led the charge to require more disclosure when state campaigns pay for political messages that appear online, such as in blogs and on social media.

Now that she sits on the Federal Election Commission in Washington D.C., Ravel has suggested that the nation’s campaign finance regulator should also examine the evolving role the internet plays in political campaigns.

It’s an idea that hasn’t sat well with Lee Goodman, the Republican who chairs the FEC.

“We have a regulation that I find very frustrating, that essentially exempts anything that’s web-based from the regulations” that require disclosure of who pays for other kinds of political advertising,” Ravel said Thursday in a meeting with the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board to discuss a variety of federal election issues. Ravel becomes chairman of the commission early next year.

“It would mean if a campaign is going to put something on a different medium than on TV that there are ways that those things could be exempted... from disclosure,” she said. “If campaigns are moving into the Internet, as they are, we need to be thoughtful about those distinctions. We need to be informed.”

Ravel said the point she initially made in written comments late last month generated a storm of backlash after Goodman did a television interview mischaracterizing her position.

“All I said was, ‘We need to be informed by the technologists and others, and then talk about it.’ That got turned into my colleague saying on Fox News that... I was trying to regulate the Internet.”

In the Fox News interview, Goodman says he and his Republican colleagues on the FEC “will oppose any effort to regulate political speech.”

“Government needs to know when to leave well enough alone,” he said.

Ravel said she’s received threatening misogynistic messages from people who saw Goodman’s interview. She took him out to dinner to tell him that his comments had generated menacing personal attacks. She said she told him that his description of her comments was inaccurate.

“You shouldn’t be doing that,” Ravel said she told Goodman. “But he’s continued to do it.”

Ravel said such episodes are damaging. “It’s a way of trying to intimidate other women from participating in politics and government.”

On Friday, Goodman issued a statement in response, noting that he and Ravel “have respectfully disagreed” on the issue. “Regulation of political speech on the Internet is an important policy debate and Commissioner Ravel’s formidable voice in that debate should not be diminished by framing the debate around anything other than substantive merits,” the statement said. “I continue to condemn any personalization of this policy debate and anyone who threatens Commissioner Ravel should be referred to law enforcement.”

Ravel’s tale of partisan bickering in the nation’s capital reflected a dilemma on the regulatory board on which she now sits. With three Democrats and three Republicans on the commission, it deadlocks on nearly every decision.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 5:05 p.m. Nov. 21, 2014 to add context to Ravel’s remarks. It was updated at 8:45 p.m. to include Goodman’s statement.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.