Campaign Law — FEC

Facebook Political Ads Still Subject to FEC Disclosure Rules

An FEC deadlock means Facebook political ads must continue to provide information about who paid for them.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Matt Loeb
June 16, 2011, 2:33 p.m.

Face­book can’t run polit­ic­al ads without dis­clos­ing who is pay­ing for them, the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion ef­fect­ively ruled this week.

At is­sue was an ef­fort by the so­cial net­work­ing em­pire to ex­empt the 160-char­ac­ter ads  that ap­pear next to user pro­files from the FEC re­quire­ment that all polit­ic­al ad­vert­ising be ac­com­pan­ied by a dis­claim­er that re­veals the ads’ un­der­writers. At­tor­neys for Face­book ar­gued that that “paid for” dis­clos­ure lan­guage would al­most com­pletely con­sume the space for the ad­vert­isers’ in­ten­ded mes­sage.

But FEC Com­mis­sion­er El­len Wein­traub con­cluded that Face­book doesn’t war­rant the same sort of ex­emp­tions that the com­mis­sion has gran­ted for ad­vert­ising in con­stric­ted phys­ic­al spaces, such as pens that can­did­ates some­times dis­trib­ute, or in cir­cum­stances where it would be dif­fi­cult to in­clude the fin­an­cial dis­clos­ure lan­guage, such as sky­writ­ing.

The Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic FEC com­mis­sion­ers could not forge a com­prom­ise rul­ing on the Face­book re­quest, which means that an earli­er rul­ing, in a case brought by Google, re­mains bind­ing on char­ac­ter-lim­ited In­ter­net ads, said Paul Ry­an of the Cam­paign Leg­al Cen­ter. That rul­ing re­quires the short-text ads to in­clude a hy­per­link con­nect­ing to an web page that iden­ti­fies the ad’s spon­sor.

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