The Vermont House advanced a measure Thursday that would clarify disclosure requirements for candidates and others who pay for online political advertisements.
Bill H.828 would require individuals, candidates, political parties and committees who pay to distribute political ads on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to identify themselves and the candidates they support in the advertisements.
Under state law, disclosures are required for political advertisements on television and radio and in print and online.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Wilmington, who sponsored the bill, said Vermont statutes need to be updated because they don’t address social media advertising explicitly.
“While Vermont campaign finance law currently applies to online advertising, it did not … envision a world of Google Adwords, Facebook and other forms of social media advertising,” he said on the House Floor Thursday afternoon.
In an interview, Gannon said his bill would clarify the law “to help candidates and others make sure they make the appropriate disclosure” when they fund ads on social media.
The bill provides guidelines for how advertisers make the disclosures. Instead fitting of their identifying information into a small block of text, the law would allow advertisers to include a hyperlink in the ad to bring readers to the disclosure.
Online political advertising has skyrocketed in recent years. Gannon cited data from the research firm Borrell & Associates which shows that spending on digital political advertising in the U.S. increased from $160 million in 2012 to about $1.4 billion in 2016.
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In Vermont, candidates, political parties, political action committees and others spent $962,000 on online political advertising in 2016, according to Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.
Condos said while the Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t have investigative authority over campaign finance laws, he said most political advertisers on social media platforms are making proper disclosures.
“It is the general impression of our office that the large majority of entities engaged in political advertising during the course of the campaign do make the proper disclosures,” he said. “If not, and if they are informed of that fact, they generally come into compliance as soon as they are made aware that they are not.”
The Secretary of State’s Office supports the bill, which he says will make it easier for advertisers to include disclosures and “is likely to increase compliance.”
H.828 would also pose a new disclosure requirement for candidates in local elections.
Under the law, candidates for local office who accept more than $500 in contributions would have to file an additional campaign finance report four days before elections.
Current campaign finance law requires candidates to file reports 30 days before, 10 days before and 10 days after an election.
H.828 would take effect on Dec. 14, after the November election this year.
Final passage on third reading on the House floor is expected Friday.
Correction: Statements that were incorrectly attributed to Eric Covey, chief of staff at the Secretary of State’s office, were, in fact, made by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos. The attribution was unclear in the email to the reporter in which the statements were made.
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