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FEC Weighs Web Funds

Is money raised online -- through a political action committee -- equivalent to money raised off-line?

That's at the heart of the decision that the Federal Election Commission has to make regarding John Edwards. The FEC's decision, expected later today, has repercussions not just for liberals but also for conservatives.

Since last year, supporters of the former senator have been donating money to his campaign through ActBlue, a popular liberal online political action committee founded in 2004. For months, Edwards was raising money online solely through the PAC. About 55,000 donors have given him more than $4.3 million, and ActBlue has raised upward of $33 million for Democratic candidates this year, making it the envy of the conservative blogosphere. Earlier this year, David All of TechRepublican helped create Slatecard, the GOP's answer to ActBlue. It raised about $75,000 for Republican candidates in its first 41 days.

But FEC rules state that only checks coming directly from individuals, not online PACs, are matched by the government. A few months ago, Edwards decided to accept public matching funds to finance his campaign. Aides to Edwards said the campaign budgeted $10 million for matching funds -- without the ActBlue money.

"We knew that the FEC would have to rule on this," campaign spokesman Eric Schultz said. "While FEC's decision will have no impact on the Edwards campaign, it will have a negative impact on the progressive grass-roots movement. But of course we feel that, since donations are coming from individual donors, it should be matched."

ActBlue is closely watching the decision, as is the liberal blogosphere.

"The rules are not set up for the Internet," said Matt Stoller of the liberal site OpenLeft. "Everyone's closely watching what happens."

-- Jose Antonio Vargas

By Web Politics Editor  |  December 14, 2007; 8:45 AM ET
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