Florida Lawmakers Move to Exempt Search Ads From Election Laws

One week after Florida’s Election Commission penalized a St. Petersburg mayoral candidate for lack of financial disclosure in his search ads, multiple state lawmakers said they’ll work to exempt Web ads from the law.

One legislator has already introduced such a bill, which will be taken when Florida legislators meet in the spring. And two others have signaled they’ll introduce similar measures protecting Web advertising. All three make the same argument: that the length of mandated disclosures is longer than the maximum length of ad copy in many online venues, including Google AdWords.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, on Wednesday was the first to introduce a proposed amendment to the state’s election charter. According to Rouson’s bill, the state’s financial disclosure requirement for political ads wouldn’t apply “to a link on an Internet webpage, regardless of the source of that link and the manner of its display.” The exemption would apply as long as the link directed Web users to a landing page containing a disclosure.

State Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, separately announced on the same day that he would push legislation; but he did not introduce a bill. And State Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, reportedly pledged to do the same thing after introducing a similar measure last year. That bill died in committee, according to Tampa Bay .

According to a statement from Eisenaugle’s office, “Florida’s election laws were written well before the Internet became a part of daily life for Floridians and do not recognize the important dynamic of online communications,” he said.

Eisenaugle said deliberations over the proposed legislation would bring together state officials and technology execs to “match our laws with the next generation of communications.”

It’s not yet clear whether the three legislators who have raised their voices will work together to craft a single bill amending the state’s laws. If they don’t, state legislators may be confronted with three, or more, dueling amendments.

Florida lawmakers only meet for 60 days a year, and the next legislative session doesn’t begin until March 2010. Therefore early May is the earliest the state is likely to change its law.

In the meantime, some have called on Google and other online ad sellers to work with Florida officials to come up with technical solutions.

Justin Sayfie, a Republican consultant and publisher of SayfieReview.com, told ClickZ, “If I were Google, if I were Bing, if I were MSN or Yahoo, I would think about whether there’s a technical solution I can provide to candidates in Florida, because now effectively there’s a ban on anything that can be seen as [online] political advertising.”

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