May 06, 2004

Wyden, Graham Legislation Would Expand McCain-Feingold Accountability Rules for Campaign Advertising

"Stand by Your Ad II" extends requirement for personal statement of candidate's approval to Internet, print and telephone ads

Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) today unveiled their bipartisan legislation to make candidates for federal office take more explicit personal responsibility for ads on the Internet, in print or in prerecorded phone calls referring directly to the candidate's opponent. The Political Candidate Personal Responsibility Act of 2004 follows Wyden's original "Stand by Your Ad" provision on which current accountability rules for TV and radio ads are based. The new Wyden-Graham bill would expressly apply to audio or video ads that are the equivalent of radio or TV ads, but that are delivered via the Internet - an increasingly common practice not addressed in current law. "When people get turned off by the electoral process, both voting and public involvement decline, and the situation is going to get worse before it gets better now that campaigns have finally learned how to exploit the power of the Internet," said Wyden. "Candidates distributing campaign materials via the mail or the Internet should be just as accountable for those ads as they are now for ads on the public airwaves." "The 'Stand by Your Ad' provisions already being applied to television and radio advertisements hold candidates accountable for the content of their commercials," said Graham. "Our legislation seeks to build upon the accountability provisions already in effect. The effort to put some measure of accountability into the system has and will continue to take some of the venom out of politics." In the 2004 election cycle, for the first time campaign ads on television have begun to include statements by candidates taking personal responsibility for approving the message. This is a result of two provisions in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law: Senator Wyden's original "Stand by Your Ad" provision, enacted in 2002 as section 305 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, requires a candidate for federal office, in order to get the "lowest unit rate" for any broadcast ad that refers directly to the candidate's opponent, to take express personal responsibility for the content of the ad. A provision subsequently added to the McCain-Feingold legislation, section 311, imposed a virtually identical requirement on all radio and TV campaign ads. As a result all radio and TV ads must include a statement, delivered by the candidate, that identifies the candidate and says that the candidate has approved the ad. TV ads must also include a written version of the statement, displayed for at least 4 seconds. Analysts and political watchers say these requirements have discouraged aggressively negative, attack-type advertising from candidates on TV and radio, likely because candidates are reluctant to associate themselves in such a personal manner with highly negative ads. Building on the successful model of the "Stand by Your Ad" provision, the Wyden-Graham bill proposes to amend the current disclaimer rules to include print, Internet and pre-recorded telephone ads. Specifically, the bill would require: * For video clips distributed via the Internet: a disclaimer that would satisfy the current requirements for a TV ad (i.e., a personal statement by the candidate expressing approval of the ad, on screen or accompanied by a photo or similar image of the candidate, plus a written version of the statement displayed for at least 4 seconds). * For audio clips distributed via the Internet, and for prerecorded phone calls: a disclaimer that would satisfy the current requirements for a radio ad (i.e., a personal audio statement by the candidate expressing approval of the ad). * For print ads (which would include mass mailings, bulk e-mail, and similar communications): a disclaimer, occupying not less than 10 percent of the total area of the communication, that contains a clearly identifiable photographic or similar image of the candidate and a clearly readable printed statement identifying the candidate and stating that the candidate approved the message. These requirements would apply only to ads that make direct reference to the candidate's opponent. Current disclaimer rules for other ads would not be changed. "The practice of political candidates publicly supporting the content of their ads needs to be expanded," said Graham. "I don't believe there is a constitutional right for any group to run a shadow campaign and not be held accountable. The more sunshine we can put into the political process, the better." "The meanest political messages are already migrating to the Internet where Stand by Your Ad's accountability requirements don't apply," said Wyden. "Stand by Your Ad is working on television and radio, and Congress should extend this success and keep the Internet, print and phone ads from becoming havens for mudslinging without accountability." The Wyden-Graham legislation is expected to be referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.