Online Political Ads: Subject to Regulation, or Just a Link?

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2009 11:13 AM CDT
A compilation of banner ads used by Barack Obama during the campaign. The ads have fine print saying they are "Paid for by Obama For America."   (ComScore)

(Newser) – If online ads are the future of political campaigning, then a legal snafu in the St. Petersburg mayoral race bears watching. Florida election officials have ruled that one candidate’s Google and Facebook ads violate state election laws because they don’t clearly state who paid for the ad, the Wall Street Journal reports. But the campaign argues that they aren’t ads—they’re links to ads, and the page they link to contains the disclosures.

Federal law provides exemptions from the disclosure rule on small items like bumper stickers where it is deemed impractical. That could, for example, apply to search ads. But Florida and several other states have less flexible rules. “It becomes a de facto restriction on political speech on search engines and things like Twitter and Facebook,” says a VP for an online advertising industry group. “It really becomes a scary precedent.”