A Guide to Political Advertising
The way things are going with redistricting, I’m not really sure we’re actually ever going to have elections in North Carolina. But on the assumption that we are, and that candidates and campaign committees will place political ads just in case, a review of political advertising laws seems in order.
The primary provisions governing political advertising in print media are found in G.S. § 126-278.39:
* The ad must include the statement: “Paid for by __________ [Name of candidate, candidate campaign committee, political party organization, political action committee, referendum committee, individual, or other sponsor].”
* If the ad relates to a ballot measure, it must state the sponsor’s position either for or against the ballot measure.
* If the ad relates to the election of a “clearly identified candidate,” the ad must state whether it is authorized by the candidate.
* If the sponsor of an advertisement has coordinated or consulted about the advertisement or the expenditure with the candidate who is intended to benefit, the advertisement must disclose the name of the candidate who is intended to benefit from the advertisement.
* The height of all disclosure statements required by law must be at least five percent (5%) of the height of the printed space of the advertisement (up to a maximum of 28 point), but in no event less than 12 points in size.
There are two very limited circumstances in which the disclosure requirements of G.S. § 163-278.39 do not apply. If an individual makes “uncoordinated independent” expenditures totaling less than $1000 or if an individual incurs expenses with respect to a referendum, disclosure is not required.
When it comes to pricing space for political advertising, there are two rules of thumb. First, you cannot charge political advertisers at a rate higher than the rate charged to other advertisers of comparable frequency and volume. Second, you cannot discriminate among candidates. Every candidate, treasurer, political party or individual shall be entitled to the same discounts afforded by the advertising medium to other advertisers under comparable conditions and circumstances. G.S. § 163-278.18. A statute governing the accounts kept by political treasurers provides that all expenditures for media expenses shall be made by check. G.S. § 163-278.8.
The Record keeping
In an offensive statute that co-opts the media into the role of enforcer when it comes to campaign regulations, state law requires media to retain records of advertising expenditures and to make those records available for public inspection. The law requires:
* Each media shall require written authority for each expenditure from each candidate, treasurer or individual making or authorizing an expenditure. A candidate may authorize advertisement paid for by a treasurer appointed by the candidate. All authorizations of expenditures signed by a candidate, treasurer or individual shall be deemed public records and copies of said authorizations shall be available for inspection during normal business hours at the office(s) of the media making the publication or broadcast nearest to the place(s) of publication or broadcast. G.S. § 163-278.17(b).
A different provision in the law provides that all records that are required to be kept must be retained for two years from the date of the election. G.S. § 163-278.35.
“Any individual, candidate, political committee, referendum committee, treasurer, person or media who intentionally violates the applicable provisions. . . is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.” G.S. § 163-278.27.
Whether elections happen sooner or later, they are sure to bring with them questions. When questions arise, call the NC Press Association Hotline at 919.582.2300 or get copies of the statutes by going to the NC Media Law section of smvt.com.