Federal Election Commission Adopts Online Political Sponsorship ID Regulations

Broadcasters are used to including sponsorship IDs in their broadcast political advertisements. Today, many broadcasters have created digital platforms. Because digital platforms fall outside the scope of the FCC’s jurisdiction, the exact type and nature of sponsorship Ids for online political advertisements have been unclear. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has now clarified the sponsorship ID requirements for online digital platforms.

In a recent blog, noted communications attorney David Oxenford explained the new FEC rules:

“While the FEC had generally acknowledged that online political ads should have some sponsorship identification, it is only now that the FEC has adopted detailed requirements for this identification. As discussed below, the proceeding requires disclosures when a sponsor pays an online platform to transmit the political message…

 Specifically, the FEC adopted a proposal that would amend its rules to require a disclaimer on those ‘communications placed for a fee on another person’s website, digital device, application, or advertising platform.’ The FEC summarized the existing rules which include requirements set out below:

    • If a candidate, an authorized committee of a candidate, or an agent of either, pays for and authorizes the communication, then the disclaimer must state that the communication ‘has been paid for by the authorized political committee.’
    • If a public communication is paid for by someone else, but is authorized by a candidate, an authorized committee of a candidate, or an agent of either, then the disclaimer must state who paid for the communication and that it is authorized by the candidate, authorized committee of the candidate, or an agent of either.
    • If the communication is not authorized by a candidate, an authorized committee of a candidate, or an agent of either, then ‘the disclaimer must clearly state the full name and permanent street address, telephone number, or World Wide Web address of the person who paid for the communication, and that the communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.’
    • Every disclaimer ‘must be presented in a clear and conspicuous manner, to give the reader, observer, or listener adequate notice of the identity of the person’ that paid for the communication.

The FEC also adopted other requirements for disclaimers:

    • for such communications with text or graphic components, include the required written disclaimer,
    • be of sufficient type size to be clearly readable,
    • be displayed with a reasonable degree of color contrast,
    • for video ads, be visible for at least 4 seconds,
    • For audio with no video, graphic, or text components, be included within the audio.”

Importantly, the FEC put off a decision on whether disclaimers would be required when the sponsor pays others to promote or widely disseminate the message to platforms that are not paid (e.g., where people are paid by a sponsor to post political messages on social media sites). These rule changes will impact most media companies with websites and mobile apps, as well as the nationwide streaming services now developing ad-supported platforms.

You can see the complete analysis by David Oxenford here.