Prepping for Political

Today’s blog post is courtesy of Brad Deutsch, owner at Garvey Schubert Barer.

Within the advertising industry there have been many articles written about accountability, transparency and fraud as it pertains to online ads.  Those same concerns have arisen as it pertains to political advertising.

There have been numerous heated headlines about Russian-sponsored online political ads that were posted during the presidential election.   But did you know that Federal law actually explicitly prohibits foreign nationals from directly, or even indirectly, purchasing political ads?

With many state and local elections coming up next month and the 2018 mid-terms just around the corner, station owners, who already have significant reporting and disclosure requirements for political ads on the air, should be paying close attention to whether any political ads they accept (whether radio or online!) are being paid for by foreign nationals.

Figuring out how to comply with these requirements can be challenging.  Who counts as a foreign national?  The Federal Election Commission (FEC) says a foreign national is anyone who’s not a U.S. citizen or who doesn’t have a green card.  But what about multinational corporations or a company’s Political Action Committee (PAC)?

So, how do you know if a political ad buyer counts as a foreign national?  For now, the answer is – just ask; and if you have any suspicions, you should give serious consideration to having the buyer certify compliance with the law.

Here’s an example of what a certification might look like:  “This ad is not being directly or indirectly funded by a foreign person or entity and neither the ad, nor payment for the ad, violates U.S. campaign finance laws.”  But, remember, such a certification is not required by law (at least, not yet), so if you do get a certification, for now it should not be included in the station’s political file.  However, you can have the certification in your private files and be able to use the certifications as a “defense” if and when someone calls an ad into question.

It’s a confusing issue, and one that Congress is actively trying to address with hearings and possible legislation that will extend current political radio, television and print advertising rules to also cover social media, online and digital display.

For more guidance and information on political advertisements in general, check out the RAB’s Political Advertising Handbook and this FAQ as well as listen to a podcast here.


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