IAB Lobby Gives to Lawmaker to Influence Behavioral Ad Policy

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is putting its PAC money where its mouth is – again. As part of its ongoing efforts to influence key lawmakers, the lobbying arm of the online ad industry’s largest membership organization gave Congressman John Dingell, an influential member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, $1,000 last month. Among the messages the IAB hopes to get across to legislators: behavioral targeting is so pervasive, even their own election campaigns probably use it.

The money went to Dingell’s reelection campaign, and helped provide the IAB face time with the legislator at a fundraising luncheon held last month in Washington, D.C.

“You can’t look past the fact that for the past four decades Mr. Dingell has been a power center within the House Energy and Commerce committee,” said Mike Zaneis, IAB’s VP public policy. Dingell is chairman emeritus of the committee, which encompasses the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, an important body that has held several hearings on issues affecting online advertising, including online privacy.

“To get in front of somebody like that, it’s a no brainer for the IAB given his position…. We wanted to turn his focus over slightly towards online advertising,” Zaneis continued.

The donation allowed the IAB access to Dingell as part of a luncheon held at the Washington offices of CBS, according to Zaneis. “Many of our member companies were there, and so it was a good opportunity to sit in front of multiple [congressional] members and espouse this industry,” he said.

Other recent fundraising events for the congressman include an annual pheasant shoot held in Boonsboro, MD.

“It doesn’t hurt that Google also has a major office in his congressional district,” added Zaneis. Dingell represents Michigan’s 15th district, home to Google’s Ann Arbor office, which coincidentally houses Google’s political ad sales team.

Zaneis expects House Commerce Committee members including Internet subcommittee chair Rick Boucher to introduce a comprehensive privacy bill in as little as a week or two, legislation that could have a big impact on behavioral advertising and other forms of online ad targeting. The IAB PAC contributed to Boucher’s reelection campaign in 2009, and to other House Internet Subcommittee members including Mike Rogers and John Shimkus.

While the IAB has long used the argument that free online content is primarily funded by targeted advertising, the organization aims to make its position hit even closer to home. During a panel on online ad targeting at yesterday’s Politics Online conference in Washington, Zaneis asked political consultants and media firms selling political ads what portion of congressional members running for reelection use behavioral ad targeting. Though the responses varied, the question illuminated a strategy the IAB is using to convince lawmakers that they, as advertisers, may be benefitting from behavioral targeting. Retargeting to reach campaign site visitors elsewhere across the Web through behavioral targeting has become a standard practice of political campaigns.

“What better case study to use – that political campaigns, members of congress, are using behavioral advertising – a very prominent technology in our industry. If the byproduct of that introduction is that you demonstrate the pervasiveness of behavioral advertising by those campaigns…and that it makes it more difficult to criticize these techniques, then that’s just an added benefit,” explained Zaneis.

The IAB has some help in supporting Dingell’s reelection campaign from a law firm closely affiliated with the IAB. Venable LLP, which shares office space with the IAB’s public policy team in D.C. and lists the organization as an industry association partner on its site, contributed $2,000 to Dingell’s leadership PAC and another $2,000 to his campaign committee during this 2009-2010 election cycle, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

Last month, Venable Partner Stu Ingis gave a presentation on “Behavioral Advertising and Privacy Concerns” at the Association of National Advertisers Advertising and Business Affairs Conference in D.C., according to the law firm’s Web site.

Another issue important to Venable’s Advertising and Marketing law practice, the IAB, and other ad trade groups, is the role of the Federal Trade Commission in regulating the online ad industry. The FTC could be awarded stronger enforcement and civil penalty capabilities soon, something the IAB has fought. In the past, Dingell has indicated his support for strengthening the FTC’s authority and funding.

Follow Kate Kaye on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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