States continue to craft online political ad disclosure rules in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. California is the latest to require “paid for by” disclaimers in some Web ads for state government candidates. And, as is the case in laws passed in Florida and Maryland this year, two of the most popular online ad types – Google text units and Facebook display ads – won’t require disclaimers.
According to amendments made to California’s disclaimer regulations by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) last month, disclosures noting who paid for ads “must appear in letters at least as large as the majority of the text in the advertisement.”
However, the rules carve loopholes for small ad formats – many of which are favored by political advertisers. Unlike standard display units, ads “limited in size” such as Google and Bing search ads and Facebook display units won’t require disclaimers directly in the ad itself. Rather, disclosure can appear with a rollover of the ad or on the Web page to which the ad is linked.
The California rules also apply to digital audio and video ads. Audio ads require disclosure for at least three seconds at the beginning or end of the spot, while video ads require disclosure displayed in text as well as in audio at the beginning or end of the spot. Audio disclosure in video ads is not needed when a text statement appears for at least 5 seconds in an ad lasting 30 seconds or less, or at least 10 seconds in a 60 second ad.
When it comes to SMS messages or other ads with character constraints, ads need only include the FPPC number associated with the sponsor committee.
Maryland this year passed rules that require state election campaigns to include a disclosure statement on Facebook profile pages, Twitter account pages, and display ads, but not in Google AdWords and AdSense text units or Facebook display units.
Meanwhile Florida’s new rules allow candidates, supporters, and political committees to disregard standard disclaimers in digital ads. The law essentially covers Twitter posts, Google search ads, small display units such as those sold by Facebook, opt-in text messages, and opt-in apps.
In October, the Federal Election Commission handed down an advisory opinion on an inquiry from Google regarding ad disclosure. In a muddled opinion, the commission told Google it can run ads for political advertisers without making a disclaimer about who paid for it directly in the ad. It said a URL of the paying group’s website in the ad and a full disclaimer on the ad landing page will suffice.
The FEC currently does not require disclaimers in Internet ads, but does call for them in bulk e-mail messages and on websites. Still, most state and federal political candidates and other political advertisers include “paid for by” disclaimers in display ads despite the lack of standard regulations.
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