Although the web is often considered a freewheeling environment, local election laws still apply to online political campaigning. As a candidate, it’s essential to know the rules that apply online before you start your digital campaign.
Here are some general topics we see regarding online campaigning and local election laws:
When can you start campaigning? Some municipalities have restrictions on when you can actively start campaigning. Some laws are more restrictive than others – especially for judicial campaigns. Even if you have to wait, many clients prepare ahead of time. They may reserve a domain name and get their website ready to go in anticipation of the time that they can go ‘live’ with it.
Website disclaimers: You may need to have various disclaimers or certain verbiage in your site footer text or elsewhere on your site. Generally, this would match the requirements of your printed materials. Paid for by … In fact, all online ads these days require disclaimers and owner verification before they are even run.
Restrictions on what can appear on your campaign website: There may be restrictions on the use of state flags or state seals in the design. (We’re looking at you, Florida!) They may be additional restrictions as to whether you can appear in uniform in campaign materials. This comes up fairly often in law enforcement and sheriff campaigns.
What you can say on your site: We’ve had to change a few client’s site headers after they’ve discovered that they cannot use certain phrases or words. In one case, we had to remove the word ‘Elect’ from the header because the election laws for the position did not allow for that word to be used. You may want to watch how your copy and signage reads so it does not give the impression that the new position you are running for is a position you already hold.
How you can contact voters: With the increase in texting, robocalls and phone banks, there are still rules that political campaigns must follow. In 2020, congress passed the TRACED Act to combat illegal robocalls. It increased potential fines and added additional tools for regulators to combat spam calls and texts.
For example, calls to cell phones are prohibited unless the recipient has explicitly opted-in to receive campaign updates. The message itself must identify the candidate and party for whom call is made. A contact number and address must also be included at the end of the message.Your state may have additional rules and requirements. You’ll want to check into them before you fire up the robodialer.
Finance limits: Be sure not to exceed your local campaign contribution limits. Your donation page should be configured to reject donations that exceed your limit. Additional donor information may also be required. This can include, but is not limited to: donor’s occupation, spouses name, citizenship requirements and so on.
Invoicing for internet services: This time of year (summer), we tend to get invoice requests. If you pay for an online service, you should keep records of your expenses, just as you would for anything else related to your campaign. (Online Candidate clients can log into the Client Portal and download financials.)
Become familiar with your local election laws before you start actively campaigning. Getting caught breaking the rules – even seemingly innocent ones – in the middle of an election can be embarrassing and an unnecessary distraction.
A good rule of thumb is that if something is not allowed in print, you can bet it won’t be allowed on the web. You can be sure that an opponent will use any violations as an attack point. Just stick to the letter and the spirit of the law, and you should have no problems at all.
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