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What Do Political Ad Regulations Mean for Local Advertisers?

March 20th, 2018   ||    by Callie Wheeler

The spotlight is on political ad regulations, with Russia’s interference in presidential election ads spurring concerns over who’s really holding the wallet. Russian-bought ads, as reported by The New York Times in November 2017, put Facebook front and center, leading many to demand more transparency around the money behind ads moving forward.

Now, Seattle’s election authority is taking things a step further—will other cities follow suit? What does this increasing concern around political ad regulations mean for advertisers?

Seattle Cites Facebook and Google for Noncompliance

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has introduced the conversation at a local level, calling out Facebook and Google for noncompliance with laws at both the city and state level. The commission requires commercial advertisers to make information about political ads available before and following elections.

According to The Seattle Times, television stations and newspapers have complied with the regulations, but requests for information from the tech companies have been met with unsatisfactory responses.

Potential Problems for Local Advertisers

Ultimately, these developments may present a problem for local advertisers, including candidates and political committees, who may not know what it takes to comply with Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules—not to mention local and state political advertising regulations.

In February 2018, ProPublica found hundreds of ads currently running on Facebook that violated the FEC requirement of disclaimer language, despite recent attention and conversation surrounding the issue. Violations can carry fines of up to thousands of dollars.

Considering Updated Traditional Mediums

An alternative to the murky, grey area of digital ads may be more traditional mediums, like print and television, which reliably follow FEC, state, and local regulations. Recent technological advances in local broadcast TV brought new tools and software to the table, simplifying the ad-buying process for political advertisers needing to get front and center.

“Political buys involve less negotiation than a standard local spot TV buy,” said Brad Smith, senior vice president of revenue and operations at Videa, to Campaigns & Elections. “There is less movement of spots and fewer cancellations. Campaigns also allocate their budgets to spend their cash up front.”

Looking at the Future of Political Advertising

With political ad spend estimated to total over $8.5 billion in 2018, many viewers and readers will be wondering who exactly is behind all that spend. For politicians and special interest groups across the country, both at the national and local levels, transparency is all part of building trust—and fortunately, trust is one of local TV’s greatest strengths.

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