GUIDE FOR NEWSPAPER POLITICAL ADVERTISING IN WASHINGTON STATE Prepared by Washington Newspaper Publishers Association June 2008
This document is a synopsis of state laws regarding political advertising that impact your newspaper. Part 1 reviews the financial records you must create -- and make available to the public and the state Public Disclosure Commission on request.
These requirements imposed on publishers are among the most obscure provisions of
Washington's strict and complicated campaign finance laws. They have rarely become an issue in the 35-year history of the Public Disclosure Act, but not knowing them run risk of a citizen
complaint and scrutiny -- and a possible civil fine of several hundred dollars -- from the Public Disclosure Commission. Part 2 of this document deals with other Washington laws dealing with political advertising,
including "paid for by" requirements, required type sizes, proper usage photographs and other details. It's important to note that compliance with these regulations is the responsibility of the candidate or political group, not the newspaper. That said, it's good customer service to help educate candidates and activists about the intricacies of the law.
PART 1: Record keeping requirements for newspapers RCW 42.17.110
Commercial advertisers â€” Public inspection of documents â€” Copies to commission. (1) Each commercial advertiser who has accepted or provided political advertising or electioneering communications during the election campaign shall maintain open for public
inspection during the campaign and for a period of no less than three years after the date of the applicable election, during normal business hours, documents and books of account which shall specify:
(a) The names and addresses of persons from whom it accepted political advertising or electioneering communications;
(b) The exact nature and extent of the services rendered; and (c) The consideration and the manner of paying that consideration for such services. (2) Each commercial advertiser which must comply with subsection (1) of this section shall deliver to the commission, upon its request, copies of such information as must be maintained open for public inspection pursuant to subsection (1) of this section.
ANALYSIS: This is the key provision of the Public Disclosure Act that newspapers must comply with. Not doing so risks the ire of the Public Disclosure Commission -- and a potential fine. Details of the records you need to create -- and have available at your front counter during normal business hours -- are detailed in the Washington Administrative Code below:
WAC 390-18-050 Commercial advertisers â€” Public inspection of records. (1) Pursuant to RCW 42.17.110, any person, without reference to or permission from the public disclosure commission, is entitled to inspect the advertising records of a commercial advertiser. (2) No commercial advertiser shall be required to make available for public inspection
information regarding advertising prior to the time when the advertisement has initially received public distribution or broadcast. (3) The documents and books of account that must be maintained open for public inspection
pursuant to RCW 42.17.110(1) are:
(a) The name of the candidate or ballot measure supported or opposed; (b) The name and address of the person who sponsored the advertising; (c) The total cost of the advertising, how much of that amount has been paid, who made the payment, when it was paid, and what method of payment was used; and (d) Date(s) the commercial advertiser rendered service. (in plain English, when the ad was
(4) In addition to subsection (3) of this section and pursuant to RCW 42.17.110 (1)(b), the documents and books of account open for public inspection must include a description of the
major work components or tasks, as specified in (a) through (f) of this subsection, that were required to provide the advertising services. (a) For printers, reproducers and other persons who provide commercial duplicating services:
Quantity of items, item description, design, layout, typesetting, photography, printing, silk screening, binding.
(b) For mailing services: Quantity of items mailed, binding, stuffing, labeling, list or directory
services, postage or delivery.
(c) For broadcast media: Time and number of spot advertisements. If the broadcaster provides additional services such as copy writing, talent, production, and tape reproduction, some type of record or notation evidencing the additional service must be available.
(d) For billboard or sign companies: Number and location of signs, design, printing and art work, erection/removal costs. (e) For specialty or novelty commercial advertisers: Quantity of items provided, silk screening,
design, printing and art work.
(f) For newspapers and other print media: Amount of advertising space and dates of publication. If the advertiser provides additional services such as design or layout, some type of record evidencing such additional services must be available.
ANALYSIS: Here's the information you need to have available at your front counter for THREE YEARS from the date a political ad was placed: the name of the candidate or ballot measure
supported or opposed; the name and address of the person who sponsored the advertising; the total cost of the advertising, how much of that amount has been paid, who made the payment, when it was paid, and what method of payment was used; and the date or dates the
advertisement was published. If you charged for designing and building the ad, details on those billings -- and whether they have been paid -- should be included.
If you offer commercial printing services and printed campaign signs or fliers, you'll need to
provide details on the quantity produced, the unit charge, and additional charges for typesetting or other services. RCW 65.16.095
Rates for political candidates. The rate charged by a newspaper for advertising in relation to candidates for political office shall not exceed the national advertising rate extended to all general advertisers and advertising
agencies in its published rate card. ANALYSIS: You can't price-gouge candidates. Space can sell for no higher than your highest published rate on your rate card -- usually, your national advertising rate.
A NOTE ON PAYMENT: Payment in advance for political advertising is standard operating procedure at most newspapers, and for good reason. If a campaign ad runs and the bill doesn't get paid, it's not only a bad debt -- in could be interpreted as an in-kind political contribution and draw the scrutiny of the PDC. Cash on the barrel head, please.
PART 2: Other Washington laws related to political advertising RCW 42.17.510
Identification of sponsor â€” Exemptions.
(1) All written political advertising, whether relating to candidates or ballot propositions, shall
include the sponsor's name and address. All radio and television political advertising, whether relating to candidates or ballot propositions, shall include the sponsor's name. The use of an
assumed name for the sponsor of electioneering communications, independent expenditures, or political advertising shall be unlawful. For partisan office, if a candidate has expressed a party or independent preference on the declaration of candidacy, that party or independent designation shall be clearly identified in electioneering communications, independent expenditures, or political advertising.
(2) In addition to the materials required by subsection (1) of this section, except as specifically addressed in subsections (4) and (5) of this section, all political advertising
undertaken as an independent expenditure by a person or entity other than a party organization, and all electioneering communications, must include the following statement as part of the
communication "NOTICE TO VOTERS (Required by law): This advertisement is not authorized or approved by any candidate. It is paid for by (name, address, city, state)." If the advertisement
undertaken as an independent expenditure or electioneering communication is undertaken by a nonindividual other than a party organization, then the following notation must also be included: "Top Five Contributors," followed by a listing of the names of the five persons or entities making
the largest contributions in excess of seven hundred dollars reportable under this chapter during the twelve-month period before the date of the advertisement or communication.
(3) The statements and listings of contributors required by subsections (1) and (2) of this section shall: (a) Appear on the first page or fold of the written advertisement or communication in at least
ten-point type, or in type at least ten percent of the largest size type used in a written advertisement or communication directed at more than one voter, such as a billboard or poster, whichever is larger;
(b) Not be subject to the half-tone or screening process; and (c) Be set apart from any other printed matter. (4) In an independent expenditure or electioneering communication transmitted via television or other medium that includes a visual image, the following statement must either be clearly
spoken, or appear in print and be visible for at least four seconds, appear in letters greater than four percent of the visual screen height, and have a reasonable color contrast with the background: "No candidate authorized this ad. Paid for by (name, city, state)." If the
advertisement or communication is undertaken by a nonindividual other than a party
organization, then the following notation must also be included: "Top Five Contributors" followed by a listing of the names of the five persons or entities making the largest contributions in
excess of seven hundred dollars reportable under this chapter during the twelve-month period before the date of the advertisement. Abbreviations may be used to describe contributing entities if the full name of the entity has been clearly spoken previously during the broadcast advertisement. (5) The following statement shall be clearly spoken in an independent expenditure or
electioneering communication transmitted by a method that does not include a visual image: "No candidate authorized this ad. Paid for by (name, city, state)." If the independent expenditure or
electioneering communication is undertaken by a nonindividual other than a party organization, then the following statement must also be included: "Top Five Contributors" followed by a listing of the names of the five persons or entities making the largest contributions in excess of seven
hundred dollars reportable under this chapter during the twelve-month period before the date of
the advertisement. Abbreviations may be used to describe contributing entities if the full name of the entity has been clearly spoken previously during the broadcast advertisement. (6) Political yard signs are exempt from the requirement of subsections (1) and (2) of this
section that the name and address of the sponsor of political advertising be listed on the
advertising. In addition, the public disclosure commission shall, by rule, exempt from the
identification requirements of subsections (1) and (2) of this section forms of political advertising such as campaign buttons, balloons, pens, pencils, sky-writing, inscriptions, and other forms of advertising where identification is impractical.
(7) For the purposes of this section, "yard sign" means any outdoor sign with dimensions no greater than eight feet by four feet.
Picture of candidate.
At least one picture of the candidate used in any political advertising shall have been taken
within the last five years and shall be no smaller than the largest picture of the same candidate used in the same advertisement. [1984 c 216 ยง 2.] RCW 42.17.530
False political advertising or electioneering communication.
(1) It is a violation of this chapter for a person to sponsor with actual malice: (a) Political advertising or an electioneering communication that contains a false statement of
material fact about a candidate for public office. However, this subsection (1)(a) does not apply to statements made by a candidate or the candidate's agent about the candidate himself or herself; (b) Political advertising or an electioneering communication that falsely represents that a
candidate is the incumbent for the office sought when in fact the candidate is not the incumbent; (c) Political advertising or an electioneering communication that makes either directly or indirectly, a false claim stating or implying the support or endorsement of any person or organization when in fact the candidate does not have such support or endorsement. (2) Any violation of this section shall be proven by clear and convincing evidence. [2005 c 445 ยง 10; 1999 c 304 ยง 2; 1988 c 199 ยง 2; 1984 c 216 ยง 3.] RCW 42.17.540 Responsibility for compliance.
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, the responsibility for compliance with RCW 42.17.510 through 42.17.530 shall rest with the sponsor of the political advertising and not with the broadcasting station or other medium.
(2) If a broadcasting station or other medium changes the content of a political advertisement, the station or medium shall be responsible for any failure of the advertisement to comply with RCW 42.17.510 through 42.17.530 that results from that change. [1984 c 216 Â§ 4.] WAC 390-18-040 Use of the terms "reelect," "retain," and "return." (1) The term "reelect" when used in an advertisement represents that the candidate is presently holding the office being sought, was elected to it, and is seeking another term in that same office in the same district or political subdivision.
(2) The term "reelect" may be used in an advertisement by a nonincumbent candidate who has previously been elected to the office being sought provided that in the same advertisement it is clearly stated that the candidate is not the incumbent.
(3) The term "retain" in an advertisement represents that the candidate is the incumbent but does not imply that the candidate attained the office by election. (4) The term "return" in an advertisement represents that the candidate now holds, or has
previously held, the office being sought, but does not represent that the office was attained by election. (5) Whenever the boundaries of a district or political subdivision are officially altered through
redistricting, consolidation or other official procedures, the candidate holding an office in the
affected district or political subdivision may, in an advertisement, use the term "reelect," "retain" or "return," as appropriate, if the candidate is seeking the same office in the revised district or political subdivision. (6) Stating the office sought (e.g., "mayor") by a candidate in a political advertisement without
expressly stating the candidate is seeking election to the office (e.g., "for mayor"; "Elect Smith Mayor") represents that the candidate presently holds that office.
WAC 390-18-020 Advertising â€” Political party identification.
(1) According to RCW 42.17.510, sponsors of advertising supporting or opposing a candidate who has expressed a party or independent preference on the declaration of candidacy must clearly identify the candidate's political party or independent status in the advertising.
(2) According to RCW 42.17.510, sponsors of electioneering communications identifying a candidate who has expressed a party or independent preference on the declaration of candidacy must clearly identify the candidate's political party or independent status in the advertising.
(3) To assist sponsors in complying with this requirement, the commission shall publish a list of abbreviations or symbols that clearly identify political party affiliation or independent status. These abbreviations may be used by sponsors to identify a candidate's political party.