Nov 10, 2022 - Politics & Policy

FEC targets digital ad disclosure

The logo of the Federal Election Commission

Scenes from the Federal Election Commission headquarters located at 1050 First St. NE (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

The Federal Election Commission is taking a significant step towards regulating digital political ads, taking up a measure to force disclosure of paid advertising on leading social and streaming platforms, according to documents posted by the FEC.

Why it matters: Spending on digital ads skyrocketed in the 2022 cycle and is only expected to grow. But watchdogs say they've escaped transparency measures reserved for more traditional political advertising.

Driving the news: The FEC is heeding those warnings and unveiled a proposed new regulation on Thursday to step up digital ad transparency.

  • The rule would require digital ads to disclose the entity paying for them, according to a draft posted on the FEC website on Thursday.
  • It would also significantly expand the types of digital ads subject to the regulations — not just traditional banner ads or videos, but also paid social media endorsements and "influencer marketing" efforts.
  • The proposed rule is the work of FEC commissioners Shana Broussard, a Democrat, and Allen Dickerson, a Republican, according to a source familiar with the process.

Under current law, any political ad in broadcast or print media must clearly identify who paid for it. But the same rules don't apply to digital ads.

  • The proposed FEC rule would apply disclosure requirements to all "communications placed or promoted for a fee on another person's website, digital device, application, service, or advertising platform."
  • The FEC has worked since 2011 to update disclosure requirements for digital ads, but has not yet enacted new regulations.

Between the lines: Despite its bipartisan backing, the new measure is already drawing some internal opposition.

  • "This regulation will scale back significant portions of the Commission’s longstanding exemption for political activity on the internet, which allows individuals and campaigns to engage freely and share their messages on websites, social media, mobile applications, and other platforms," wrote Republican commissioner Sean Cooksey in a statement.
  • He expressed concern about its "burdensome and confusing new disclaimer requirements."

The intrigue: The FEC is scheduled to vote on the measure next week — and is forgoing a public comment period on the regulation, according to Cooksey.

  • "Without additional public input—and major revisions—I cannot support increasing government regulation over political speech online,” he wrote.

The big picture: Political spending on digital ads skyrocketed in the 2022 cycle, and is expected to grow further ahead of the 2024 presidential contest.

What they're saying: "I'm certainly happy to see the commission taking this issue up again," said Erin Chlopak, the senior director for campaign finance at the Campaign Legal Center.

  • "CLC has encouraged the commission a number of times to turn back to it and address this long standing need to update the Commission's rules to address technology which has continued to evolve and develop significantly since this rulemaking was first proposed."
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