2014 Political Disclaimer Update

2014 Political Disclaimer Update

Campaign Literature Must Include Disclaimer

The 2010 Legislature restored the disclaimer requirement for political ads, which had been gone for several years because it was declared unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals.  Indeed, over the past 10-15 years, the disclaimer mandate has been declared unconstitutional three different times, but on each occasion, the Legislature has eventually tried to restore it by enacting slightly different language.

Campaigns covered by Minnesota law: All statewide races (such as those for governor or attorney general); legislative contests; judicial elections; and those for municipal posts, such as city council, county board, and school board.  Also, campaigns relating to “ballot questions.”  These are elections conducted by government bodies that involve issues on which the public is to express its views by voting.  Examples include school bond elections and elections on constitutional amendments.

Minn. Stat. 211B.04, which was the section amended by the 2010 Legislature, describes the current version of the disclaimer requirement.

(a) A person who participates in the preparation or dissemination of campaign material other than as provided in section 211B.05, subdivision 1, that does not prominently include the name and address of the person or committee causing the material to be prepared or disseminated in a disclaimer substantially in the form provided in paragraph (b) or (c) is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) Except in cases covered by paragraph (c), the required form of disclaimer is: “Prepared and paid for by the ………. committee, ………(address)” for material prepared and paid for by a principal campaign committee, or “Prepared and paid for by the ………. committee, ………(address), in support of ………(insert name of candidate or ballot question)” for material prepared and paid for by a person or committee other than a principal campaign committee.
(c) In the case of broadcast media, the required form of disclaimer is: “Paid for by the ………… committee.”
(d) Campaign material that is not circulated on behalf of a particular candidate or ballot question must also include in the disclaimer either that it is “in opposition to…..(insert name of candidate or ballot question…..)”; or that “this publication is not circulated on behalf of any candidate or ballot question.”
(e) This section does not apply to objects stating only the candidate’s name and the office sought, fund-raising tickets, or personal letters that are clearly being sent by the candidate.
(f) This section does not apply to an individual or association who acts independently of any candidate, candidate’s committee, political committee, or political fund and spends only from the individual’s or association’s own resources a sum that is less than $2,000 in the aggregate to produce or distribute campaign material that is distributed at least seven days before the election to which the campaign material relates.
(g) This section does not modify or repeal section 200B.06.

Minn. Stat. 211B.05 requires that the term “paid advertisement” be included in a political ad.  Indeed, this part of the law was never invalidated by the courts.www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=211B.05

Keep in mind all newspapers may adopt individual policies that require disclaimers on all political ads.

Federal Disclaimers
There are three varieties of federal political disclaimers, depending on who places the advertisement. Virtually all federal election ad copy will already contain the disclaimer. The disclaimer must appear on any type of advertisement, including leaflets and campaign signs.

Federal law does not specify the exact disclaimer language, but here are some sample disclaimers for each of the three varieties of advertisement covered by the law. Names but not addresses are required in each of the federal disclaimers.

Federal law covers advertising for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for federal office (president, vice-president and member of the U.S. House or Senate) and advertising that solicits any contribution in connection with a federal election.

1. Advertisements authorized and paid for by (a) a candidate or (b) an authorized political committee of the candidate or its agent (including solicitations for contributions):
a. Paid for by John Doe on his own behalf.
b. Paid for by the John Doe for Congress Committee.
2. Advertisements authorized by (a) the candidate or (b) the candidate’s authorized committee but paid for by other persons (including solicitations):
a. Paid for by Pat Platt and authorized by John Doe.
b. Paid for by Pat Platt and authorized by the John Doe for Congress Committee.
3. Advertisements on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate but not paid for and not authorized by either a candidate or an authorized political committee of a candidate (including solicitations): Paid for by Jane Jones and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee

Advertisements soliciting contributions from the general public on behalf of a political committee that is not an authorized committee of a candidate must “clearly state the full name of the person who paid for” the advertisement.

Size and Placement
Federal law does not specify the size or placement of the disclaimer, but it is typically at the  beginning or the end, and in at least 8-point type

Mobile Ads
A new challenge for the disclaimer laws that’s come up recently involves mobile ads–typically sent to a smart phone or tablet where the user of the device has an app issued by the sender.  These ads are usually very small, and there just isn’t room to include a disclaimer on most of them.

Right now, the law simply doesn’t provide a good answer about what to do in these cases.  We’ve checked with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, and the staff confirms that the law isn’t clear when it comes to this kind of advertising.  The Board is currently studying the issue, and will probably issue some guidelines in a few months.  Meanwhile, given the uncertainty of the law, it’s very unlikely that any effort will be made to enforce its requirements in the context of mobile ads. Thus there shouldn’t be any problem for now in distributing such ads without the full disclaimer.