Understanding Political Disclaimers

We’ve all seen political ads and media. Whether it’s a commercial on TV or a billboard on the highway, almost every campaign utilizes political advertising to share its message.

We’ve all seen political ads and media. Whether it’s a commercial on TV or a billboard on the highway, almost every campaign utilizes political advertising to share its message. 

Something that’s always part of those ads is a political disclaimer. This is the notice at the end of a political commercial or on the bottom of a print ad that lets you know who paid for and authorized the ad. 

Political disclaimers are an excellent tool for making the campaign process more transparent. Everyone can see exactly who is authorizing and funding the political messages they see.

What Are Political Disclaimers?

The purpose of the disclaimer is to let the people seeing the ad know who is paying for and authorizing the message. Regardless of which medium a committee uses, the disclaimer must be easy to read or hear and extremely difficult to overlook. 

Ads Authorized and Financed by a Campaign

Any public communication from a political committee must legally display a political disclaimer. Public communication refers to a wide range of media, including:

  • Electioneering communications
  • General public political ads
  • TV ads
  • Print ads
  • Outdoor ad facilities
  • Mass mailing
  • Phone banks
  • Ads on other websites

Additionally, committees must have a disclaimer on emails and their public websites, though these do not qualify as public communication. For print, TV, and radio ads, there are usually additional requirements. 

Ads Authorized But Not Financed by a Campaign

In some cases, there are political messages authorized but not financed by the campaign they’re supporting. Political disclaimers for these ads have to identify who funded the ad and who approved it.

Ads Not Authorized or Financed by a Campaign

Some large campaigns receive support through ads that aren’t affiliated with the campaign itself. Outside groups authorize and fund the advertisement with no input from the campaign they’re supporting.

These ads must have political disclaimers that contain the full name of the individual, group, political committee, corporation, or labor organization that paid for the communication. Additionally, they have to provide the funder’s street address, phone number, or website address.

Unaffiliated ads have to state that the message is not authorized by the candidate or candidate’s committee. Should there be an issue with the ad, or if someone wants to contact the people behind the ad, they have to know that the campaign itself is not responsible.

Disclaimers Not Required

There are a few scenarios where political disclaimers are not required even though a political message is shared. In these cases, it is usually impractical to print a disclaimer.

The first is when a disclaimer cannot be conveniently printed on a piece of media, like pens, bumper stickers, pins, buttons, and other small items. It’s nearly impossible to have a readable disclaimer on these items, and requiring one would be incredibly impractical.

The second is when the display of a disclaimer is not practicable. These are instances where it’s challenging to place a disclaimer. For example, wearing a piece of apparel supporting a campaign, water tower writing, or skywriting are scenarios where a disclaimer cannot realistically be provided. 

Finally, items that are of minimal value or don’t contain a political message do not have to include a disclaimer. These are typically campaign items used for administrative purposes, like checks and receipts, where the objective is not to spread a political message.

Having instances that are exempt from the political disclaimer allows campaigns and candidates to utilize as many advertising mediums as possible. While any public communications, emails, and public websites have to include a political disclaimer, items that it’s impractical to include a disclaimer on do not. 

The Benefits of Political Disclaimers

Politics is often incredibly confusing and intimidating for the average person. While people don’t need to know the exact ins and outs of politics, they do need to know about the elections they’re voting in. As constituents, it’s our responsibility to learn about the candidates and campaigns in an election. 

A major way that people learn about campaigns is through political messaging and advertising. No matter where someone sees the ad, it’s often a source of information that impacts them if they are undecided about who they’ll vote for.

By having political disclaimers, the average citizen can look at a political message or advertisement and know who is responsible. It takes away some confusion about political campaigning and lets people know who is responsible for the message.

Additionally, disclaimers force campaigns and candidates to stand by the messages they put out. They have to authorize the communication and can’t claim they didn’t know about it or agree with it.

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