State’s Fair Political Practices Commission extends the regulations already in place for print, TV and radio advertising.

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
November 13, 2010

Reporting from Sacramento —

Political ads sent by text message or placed on websites will have to include a message to voters disclosing who is behind them under new rules approved Friday by the state’s campaign watchdog agency.

The rule from the California Fair Political Practices Commission subjects online ads to the standards that apply to television, radio and print political advertising.

“What we have here is a logical extension of existing rules for more traditional forms of political communications into the online universe,” said Commission Chairman Dan Schnur.

The disclosure rules would apply to “electronic media advertisements” meant to go to 200 or more people, which includes paid political advocacy in text messages, e-mails and Web pages. Internet messages posted or sent by individuals who are not paid by campaigns, including campaign volunteers and bloggers, would be exempt.

Many campaigns are unable to afford to buy time on television and have been posting their political ads on YouTube or other websites. In some cases, campaigns send out mass e-mails with links allowing voters to view the ads. Under the new rule, those ads would have to include a message saying which committee paid for them and, in some cases, identify the major donors to that committee.

Panel members said they would consider more rules in the future regarding bloggers. The rules adopted Friday may apply in some cases to paid political ads posted on a blogger’s website.

The new regulations were welcomed by Katie Fleming, a policy advocate with California Common Cause, which promotes an open political process. “We think that these proposed regulations would be a historic step to shed sunlight on campaign activities online,” Fleming told the panel. “We think these regulations have done a great job balancing the public’s need for information with the freedom of expression we are enjoying online.”

The rules recognize that the Internet has allowed some candidates without much money to get their message out, Fleming said. It is “affirming that our Internet has hit the big leagues, hopefully helping to level the playing field for citizen participation in the governing process,” Fleming said.

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