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Warning! That Political Ad on Google Could Cost You a $250 Fine!


There’s a problem brewing that involves Google and election mud-slinging.

Ooh, I just heard a collective “I knew it” from political conspiracy theorists around the country, but it’s not quite what you think. The problem involves the mandated disclaimer often needed for any kind of political ad.

You know the kind: “This ad was paid for by the party to elect Michael Scott mayor of Scranton.”

The issue under discussion is, how do you fit such a long disclaimer on a Google AdWords ad? In his recent campaign for mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., Scott Wagman bought such an ad and was fined for lack of disclaimer.

He was hardly the first to employ the tactic, which didn’t stop a rival campaign from complaining the ad did not have a “paid for by” disclaimer. The Florida Elections Commission ordered Wagman to remove it and pay a $250 fine, even though the required disclaimer was longer than the 68 characters allowed in the text of the ad, which wasn’t “paid for” until someone clicked on it.

Now political eggheads and pencil pushers around the country are trying to figure out if Google ads need such a disclaimer, or do they fall within the realm of buttons and bumper-stickers–which require no such wording.

I’d say they have about 2 years left to figure this out. Search spending showed improved usage numbers during the 2008 presidential election, and I suspect that trend will continue as we get closer to the 2012.

My solution?

Simply ensure the landing page has the disclaimer. After all, the ad hasn’t technically been “paid for” by anyone, until you click the ad and visit the landing page. But that might just be too simple of a solution for politicians. ;-)

UPDATE: Google spokesperson Galen Panger has given us feedback on the Florida Elections Commission ruling:

“Hi Andy—Just want to make sure your readers know this only applies to politicians in Florida due to the ruling by the Florida (not Federal) Elections Commission. Political advertisers in the other 49 states shouldn’t worry. AdWords was big in the 2008 election and usage by political advertisers continues to grow.”

  • http://www.crossingmarketingandit.com Elmer Boutin

    Now this is an interesting conundrum.

    Your solution is simple. It’s also quite realistic and practical. But yet, you’re right that it may be too simple.

    I wonder how many complaints of this type we’ll see as the next election cycle closes in.
    .-= Elmer Boutin´s last blog ..Agile Teams =-.

  • http://www.madisonwisconsinliving.com Hershel Miller

    your solution is far too simple for beaurocracy to agree with
    .-= Hershel Miller´s last blog ..Wisconsin Real Estate Update =-.

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  • PaidPolMediaPro

    Your solution also doesn’t take into account the types of ads that don’t require a click to have an effect: impression-based advertising where the simple act of seeing the ad – without clicking it – sends a message to the viewer. Even if it’s not technically paid for yet, that impression could be a negative attack ad, a positive issues-stance, or anything else (including straight fraudulent claims or libel). Letting campaigns influence voter opinion in this way (subtle, I realize, but it has a very real, demonstrable effect) without putting their name on it is creating a niche for online guerilla warfare in the political arena, and is currently leading to major problems around the country. This issue will come to a head during the 2012 election, if not sooner, and is really going to mess with internet campaign finance law in general, an area that is still pretty legally grey.