Advertising and disclaimers
Any public communication made by a political committee—including communications that do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified federal candidate or solicit a contribution—must display a disclaimer. Furthermore, disclaimers must also appear on political committees' internet websites that are available to the general public, and in certain email communications. Political committees must also include additional information on their solicitations.
As explained on this page, in addition to the requirements for public communications, printed communications, radio, television (or any broadcast, cable or satellite transmission) and internet communications may have additional requirements.
Disclaimers must be “clear and conspicuous” regardless of the medium in which the communication is transmitted. A disclaimer is not clear and conspicuous if it is difficult to read or hear, or if its placement is easily overlooked.
Definition of public communication
Public communications include electioneering communications and any other form of general public political advertisement, including communications made using the following media:
- Broadcast, cable or satellite
- Newspaper or magazine
- Outdoor advertising facility
- Mass mailing (more than 500 substantially similar mailings within 30 days)
- Phone bank (more than 500 substantially similar calls within 30 days)
- Communications placed for a fee on another person’s website, digital device, application, or advertising platform
The following communications are not considered to be public communications, but still require a disclaimer:
- Electronic mail: More than 500 substantially similar communications sent by a political committee
- Websites of political committees that are available to the general public
Disclaimers for PACs, party committees and other groups or individuals
Authorized but not financed by campaign committee
If a covered communication, including any solicitation, is authorized by the candidate or campaign but paid for by a political action committee, a party committee or another person, the communication must identify the person who paid for it and state that it was authorized by the candidate or campaign. Additional requirements apply for print, television, radio and internet ads, as explained on this page.
“Paid for by the XYZ Committee and authorized by the Sam Jones for Congress Committee.”
Not authorized or financed by campaign
Communications paid for by an individual, a group, a political committee, a corporation, or a labor organization, but not authorized by a candidate or a candidate’s campaign, must contain a disclaimer notice identifying who paid for the communication and indicating whether any candidate or candidate’s committee authorized the communication. A disclaimer notice must contain the full name of the individual, group, political committee, corporation, or labor organization that paid for the communication, along with any abbreviated name it uses to identify itself. The disclaimer notice must also provide the payor’s permanent street address, telephone number, or website address and must further state that the communication was not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.
“Paid for by the Court Jesters Union PAC (www.jesterspac.net) and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”
This type of notice must be used on independent expenditures and electioneering communications that are not authorized by a candidate or a candidate’s campaign.
Additional requirements apply for print, television, radio and internet ads, as explained on this page.
Party committee-specific disclaimers
Party committee coordinated communications on behalf of candidate
A party committee that pays for a party coordinated communication must identify the party committee as the payor in the disclaimer. Prior to the date the party’s candidate is nominated, it is sufficient for the disclaimer to state who has paid for the communication. After the nomination, the disclaimer must state that it was paid for by the party committee and authorized by the candidate and comply with the other applicable requirements listed on this page.
Exempt party activity
On an exempt activity communication, such as bumper stickers, pins, buttons and pens, the disclaimer notice must identify the committee that paid for the message, but need not state whether the communication is authorized by a candidate.
Special rules for printed communications
In printed communications, the disclaimer must be contained within a printed box set apart from the contents of the communication. The font size of the disclaimer must be of sufficient size to be “clearly readable” by the recipient of the communication, and the print must have a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the printed statement. Black text in 12-point font on a white background is one way to satisfy this requirement for printed material measuring no more than 24 inches x 36 inches.
A disclaimer need not appear on the front page or cover of a multiple-page document, as long as the disclaimer appears within the communication.
Package of materials
Each communication that would require a disclaimer if distributed separately must still display the disclaimer when included in a package of materials. For example, if a campaign poster is mailed with a solicitation for contributions, a separate disclaimer must appear on the solicitation and the poster.
Safe harbor for printed communications
The regulations contain a safe harbor that establishes a fixed, twelve-point type size as a sufficient size for disclaimer text in newspapers, magazines, flyers, signs and other printed communications that are no larger than the common poster size of 24 inches x 36 inches.
Disclaimers for larger communications will be judged on a case-by-case basis.
The regulations additionally provide two safe harbor examples that would comply with the color-contrast requirement:
- The disclaimer is printed in black text on a white background, or
- The degree of contrast between the background color and the disclaimer text color is at least as great as the degree of contrast between the background color and the color of the largest text in the communication.
Special rules for television and radio ads: the “stand by your ad” provision
Both authorized and unauthorized television communications must contain a “clearly readable” written statement that appears at the end of the communication, for a period of at least four seconds with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the disclaimer statement. The written statement must occupy at least four percent of the vertical picture height.
Authorized by candidate’s committee
In addition to the requirements already noted, radio and television communications (or any broadcast, cable or satellite transmission) that are authorized or paid for by a campaign require additional language. For such ads, the candidate must deliver an audio statement identifying themself and stating that the candidate has approved of the communication. For example, “I am [candidate’s name], a candidate for [federal office sought], and I approved this advertisement.”
In a television ad, the disclaimer must be conveyed by:
- A full-screen view of the candidate making the statement; or
- A voiceover by the candidate with an image of the candidate occupying no less than 80 percent of the vertical screen height.
Not authorized by candidate’s committee
A radio or television communication that is not authorized by a candidate or the candidate’s authorized committee (or their agents), must include an audio statement from a representative of the political committee, corporation, labor organization, individual or group paying for the communication that “XXX is responsible for the content of this advertising,” where “XXX” is the name of the political committee, corporation, labor organization, individual or group who paid for the communication. This is in addition to the statements identifying who paid for the communication and that it is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.
Special rules for internet public communications
Disclaimer requirements for internet public communications are in some ways similar to those for print and broadcast media, but also take into account the ways in which internet public communications differ from print and broadcast media. The internet disclaimer provisions do not impose the stand-by-your-ad requirements applicable to radio and television advertisements.
Internet public communications with text or graphic components
Internet public communications that include text or graphic components must include a written disclaimer that can be viewed without taking any action. The text of the disclaimer must be large enough to be clearly readable by the recipient of the communication. Disclaimer text that is at least as large as the majority of other text in the communication satisfies this requirement. The disclaimer must also be displayed with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the disclaimer’s text. A disclaimer satisfies this requirement if it is:
- Displayed in black text on a white background; or
- If the degree of color contrast is no less than the color contrast between the background and the largest text used in the communication.
Internet public communications with only audio or video components
For internet public communications that contain only audio (no video, graphic or text components), the disclaimer must be included within the audio component so that a recipient need not take any additional action beyond listening to the advertisement to obtain the disclaimer information. This is similar to the existing requirement that radio communications must include audio disclaimers.
For internet public communications in which the disclaimer is displayed within a video, the disclaimer must be visible for at least four seconds and appear without the recipient taking any action. This is similar to the requirement for television communications, which also requires disclaimers to appear for at least four seconds.
Adapted disclaimer option for internet public communications
When the full disclaimer cannot be provided or would occupy more than 25 percent of the communication due to character or space constraints intrinsic to the advertising product or medium, an adapted disclaimer may be used to satisfy the disclaimer requirement.
An adapted disclaimer is a clear statement that the internet public communication is paid for, identifying the person or persons who paid for it using their full name or a commonly understood abbreviation or acronym by which the payor is known, and is accompanied by an indicator and a mechanism.
An indicator is:
Any visible or audible element associated with an internet public communication that is presented in a clear and conspicuous manner and gives notice to persons reading, observing or listening to the internet public communication that they may read, observe, or listen to a disclaimer through a mechanism. An indicator may take any form including, but not limited to words, images, sounds, symbols and icons.
A mechanism is:
Any use of technology that enables the person reading, observing, or listening to an internet publication communication to read, observe or listen to a disclaimer with no more than one action by the recipient of the internet public communication. This may include, but is not limited to, hover-over text, pop-up screens, scrolling text, rotating panels and hyperlinks to a landing page.
Additional information is required for political committee fundraising solicitations. The requirements vary depending on the type of committee.
Preemption of state law
An authorization notice does not have to comply with state or local disclaimer laws if the communication is made only with respect to federal candidates and elections. However, state or local laws governing the placement or location of signs on roads are not superseded by federal law.
Rates for political advertisements
Rates charged by newspapers and magazines for campaign advertising must be comparable to those charged for noncampaign advertisements. Rates charged for radio and television advertisements are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.
When a disclaimer isn’t required
A disclaimer is not required when:
- It cannot be conveniently printed (for example, pens, bumper stickers, campaign pins, campaign buttons and similar small items);
- Its display is not practicable (for example, wearing apparel, water towers and skywriting); or
- The item is of minimal value, does not contain a political message and is used for administrative purposes (for example, checks and receipts).