August 03, 2009

Ron Jacobs quoted in Wall Street Journal story on campaign Web ads

2 min

According to an August 3, 2009 story in the Wall Street Journal, the Florida Elections Commission has decided a mayoral candidate's ads on Google and Facebook appear to violate the state's election law. Among issues raised by the case is how to adapt rules established for traditional media to the online world. Federal election law requires candidates to disclose in their ads who is paying for them, and whether the candidate approved of the ad, so that voters know who stands behind it. Many other states, including Texas, Alaska, Connecticut and Ohio, also require these disclaimers.

According to the story, analysts say online ads could become a more crucial part of political campaigns, and the Florida dispute is likely to set a precedent for how state and local politicians advertise on the Web.

The major difference lies in exemptions. Federal law says the disclosure requirements don't apply to bumper stickers, pens and other small items in which the disclaimer's inclusion would be impractical. The Florida law, which applies to state and local elections, has just two exceptions: campaign messages that are designed to be worn by a person and novelty items with a retail value of $10 or less.

"The comparison problem is that the federal law is flexible, and text messages which are 160 characters long or other online ads can be adapted to new technology," said Ron Jacobs, an attorney in Venable's Political Law Practice Group.