The Federal Election Commission recently held a public hearing to discuss its March 2018 proposed rule aimed at providing voters with more information about who pays for or sponsors online political advertisements. The private sector has adopted a solution to the issue.

On May 22, 2018, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) took the first step to alter the status quo by unveiling a new, industry-wide PoliticalAds transparency initiative designed to bring greater transparency and accountability to the realm of political advertising.

Similar to the DAA’s YourAdChoice program, which provides consumers with easily accessible information via the familiar blue triangle that accompanies interest-based ads, the PoliticalAds initiative will require certain political advertisements to supply information and a comparable purple icon.

Political Ad Icon

New DAA guidance responds to the upward tick in digital political advertising by setting new rules for “Political Advertisers,” which are any persons or entities that pay a third party to display their political messaging. Specifically, the DAA’s new guidance applies to “Political Advertisements,” ads that contain “Express Advocacy.” Express Advocacy, in turn, refers to “paid-for communications that unmistakably urge the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidate(s) for a federal or statewide election.”

Under the new guidance, Political Advertisers should provide consumers with newly mandated notices that convey important information about their Express Advocacy.

First, Political Advertisers should place the purple icon in the ad, which provides “clear, meaningful, and prominent notice that the advertisement is a Political Advertisement.” The DAA explains that this requirement should supplement, rather than supplant, existing state and federal disclaimer requirements.

Additionally, the new guidance requires Political Advertisers to include certain identifying information in the political advertisement notice, which should be linked from a PoliticalAds icon in or around the advertisement, including:

  • The name of the Political Advertiser (e.g., “Smith for Congress”);
  • The Political Advertiser’s telephone number, physical address, Web address, or alternative and reliable contact information;
  • Any other information required by state and federal law that must be included in a disclaimer notice;
  • The name(s) of the Political Advertiser’s chief executive officers, a member of the executive committee or the board of directors, or treasurer;
  • A hyperlink to either:
    1. A readily accessible, online, searchable government database of contributions and expenditures by the Political Advertiser, if state or federal law requires the Political Advertiser to report that information; OR
    2. A hyperlink to a DAA-developed Web site——that links to one or more government contribution and expenditures databases, if state or federal law requires the Political Advertiser to report that information; and
  • Where an advertisement is too small to include the required state and federal law disclaimers, such disclaimers should be included in the political advertisement notice.

The guidance is backed by two advertising industry organizations, which will both independently monitor and enforce compliance with the DAA guidance. In addition to their own monitoring, both organizations will also field complaints of non-compliance from the public, opposing candidates, and government agencies. These organizations will notify Political Advertisers if their ads do not comply with the guidance and will afford them the opportunity to correct any violations. Both organizations will publicly report on the nature of the advertiser’s non-compliance and refer the violations to appropriate state or federal agencies as necessary.

The DAA expects the program to be fully operational in the coming months.