The NCSL Blog


By Amanda Zoch

Phoenix—Twitter has banned political ads. Some say Facebook, Google and others should do the same. But according to Colin Delany, an online communications consultant, “even if Facebook got rid of digital advertising, there would still be digital ads.”

social mediaAt an NCSL Capitol Forum session titled “What’s Up With Digital Campaign Ads?” Delany showed that the volume of digital campaign ads has grown steadily over the past decade and will only continue to do so “because that’s where the people are.”

And more and more candidates are catching on. Senator Melanie Levesque (D-N.H.) moderated the session and opened by mentioning that 2019 was the first year her campaign went digital. Other attendees added that they, too, were new to the digital realm and wanted guidance for best practices.

Delany said the purpose of online advertising is to:

  • Recruit.
  • Persuade.
  • Get out the vote.
  • Increase name recognition.
  • Fight disinformation.

For down-ballot candidates, especially in low turnout races, he added that a digital ad functions like a yard sign and can be much cheaper.

But remember, with online ads anybody can buy ads against you. “Online advertising,” Delany cautioned, “can be something that happens to you, not just something you do.”

So what is to be done when candidates want to know who is attacking them or voters want to know who paid for an ad?

Lee Peeler, president and CEO of the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council (ASRC) and executive vice president for policy and program development of the Better Business Bureau National Programs, Inc., offered one solution: Self-regulation through the Digital Advertising Alliance’s (DAA) Political Ads Program.

ad iconLike the ubiquitous YourAdChoices Icon, the DAA’s new Political Ads Program will allow online users to click on the political ad icon (pictured at left) and view the name and contact information of the political advertiser, as well as any other disclosures required by federal or state law. When applicable, the information will also include a link to an online searchable government database tracking contributions and expenditures for the political advertiser.

This program applies to ads that “expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate,” Peeler said, and will start with ads for candidates running for federal and statewide offices, though states may adopt the framework for down-ballot races (see Maryland’s “Online Electioneering Transparency and Accountability Act”).

The DAA directs its regulatory efforts at advertisers, aiming to increase transparency for voters and achieve consistency across states in digital advertising. The alliance will start enforcing the new self-regulatory guidelines on Jan. 1, 2020.

NCSL gratefully acknowledges the Digital Advertising Alliance for its support of this session.

Amanda Zoch is an NCSL legislative policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Fellow.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.