Any public communication made by a political committee — including communications that do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified federal candidate or solicit a contribution — must display a disclaimer.
As explained on this page, disclaimers must also appear on political committees' internet websites, and in certain email communications. Moreover, all public communications that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, electioneering communications, and all public communications that solicit any contribution require a disclaimer, regardless of who has paid for them.
Public communications include electioneering communications and any other form of general public political advertisement, including communications made using the following media:
- Broadcast, cable or satellite
- Newspaper or magazine
- Outdoor advertising facility
- Mass mailing (more than 500 substantially similar mailings within 30 days)
- Phone bank (more than 500 substantially similar calls within 30 days)
- Communications placed for a fee on another person’s website
The following communications are not considered to be public communications, but still require a disclaimer:
- Electronic mail: More than 500 substantially similar communications sent by a political committee
- Websites of political committees
When a disclaimer isn’t required
A disclaimer is not required when:
- It cannot be conveniently printed (for example, pens, bumper stickers, campaign pins, campaign buttons and similar small items);
- Its display is not practicable (for example, wearing apparel, water towers and skywriting); or
- The item is of minimal value, does not contain a political message and is used for administrative purposes (for example, checks and receipts).
What disclaimers must say
Authorized and financed by campaign
If the candidate or campaign authorizes and finances a covered communication (including any solicitation), the notice must state that the communication was paid for by the authorized committee. Additional requirements apply for print, television and radio ads.
Authorized but not financed by campaign
If a covered communication, including any solicitation, is authorized by the candidate or campaign but paid for by another person, the communication must identify the person who paid for it and state that it was authorized by the candidate or campaign. Additional requirements apply for print, television and radio ads.
Not authorized or financed by campaign
Although this type of notice is not used by a candidate’s campaign, campaign staff should be aware that if a person pays for a covered communication (including any solicitation) that refers to their candidate but is not authorized by any candidate or campaign, the notice must state that it was not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee, identify the entity that paid for the communication and provide at least one of the following: the payor’s permanent street address, telephone number or website address.
Additionally, on a radio or television communication that is not authorized by a candidate or the candidate’s authorized committee, a representative of the individual or group paying for the communication must state that “XXX is responsible for this communication,” where “XXX” is the name of the political committee or other person who paid for the communication. If applicable, the name of the sponsoring committee’s connected organization is also required in the disclaimer.
Party committee coordinated communications on behalf of candidate
A party committee that pays for a communication that is a coordinated party expenditure must identify the party committee as the payor in the disclaimer. Prior to the date the party’s candidate is nominated, it is sufficient for the party committee to state who has paid for the communication. Subsequent to the nomination, the disclaimer must state that it was paid for by the party committee and authorized by the candidate.
Once a candidate has been nominated for the general election, the disclaimer notice must also state who authorized the communication and comply with the other applicable requirements listed on this page.
Exempt party activity
On an exempt activity communication, such as campaign materials, the disclaimer notice must identify the committee that paid for the message, but need not state whether the communication is authorized by a candidate.
Preemption of state law
An authorization notice does not have to comply with state or local disclaimer law if the communication is made only with respect to federal candidates and elections. However, state or local laws governing the placement or location of signs on roads, without respect to identifying the sponsor of an advertisement, are not superseded by federal law.
What disclaimers must look like
All disclaimers must be “clear and conspicuous” regardless of the medium in which the communication is transmitted. A disclaimer is not clear and conspicuous if it is difficult to read or hear, or if its placement is easily overlooked.
Special rules for printed communications
In printed communications, the disclaimer must be contained within a printed box set apart from the contents of the communication. The print of the disclaimer must be of sufficient size to be “clearly readable” by the recipient of the communication, and the print must have a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the printed statement. Black text in 12-point font on a white background is one way to satisfy this requirement for printed material measuring no more than 24 inches x 36 inches.
A disclaimer need not appear on the front page or cover of a multiple-paged document, as long as the disclaimer appears within the communication.
Package of materials
Each communication that would require a disclaimer if distributed separately must still display the disclaimer when included in a package of materials. For example, if a campaign poster is mailed with a solicitation for contributions, a separate disclaimer must appear on the solicitation and the poster.
Safe harbor for printed communications
The regulations contain a safe harbor that establishes a fixed, twelve-point type size as a sufficient size for disclaimer text in newspapers, magazines, flyers, signs and other printed communications that are no larger than the common poster size of 24 inches x 36 inches.
Disclaimers for larger communications will be judged on a case-by-case basis.
The regulations additionally provide two safe harbor examples that would comply with the color-contrast requirement:
- The disclaimer is printed in black text on a white background, or
- The degree of contrast between the background color and the disclaimer text color is at least as great as the degree of contrast between the background color and the color of the largest text in the communication.
Special rules for television and radio ads
Both authorized and unauthorized television communications must also contain a “clearly readable” written statement that appears at the end of the communication, for a period of at least four seconds with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the disclaimer statement. The written statement must occupy at least 4% of the vertical picture height, and it must be shown for a period of four seconds.
Authorized by candidate’s committee–the “stand by your ad” provision
In addition to the requirements noted under “Wording of disclaimer notice," radio and television communications (or any broadcast, cable or satellite transmission) that are authorized or paid for by a campaign require additional language. For such ads, the candidate must deliver an audio statement identifying himself or herself and stating that he or she has approved of the communication. For example, “I am [candidate’s name], a candidate for [federal office sought], and I approved this advertisement.”
In a television ad, the disclaimer must be conveyed by:
- A full-screen view of the candidate making the statement; or
- A voiceover by the candidate with an image of the candidate occupying no less than 80 percent of the vertical screen height.
Additionally, television communications must contain a clearly readable written statement of approval, similar to what is spoken, that appears at the end of the communication for a period of at least four seconds with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the disclaimer statement (for example, black text on white background). The written statement must occupy at least 4 percent of the vertical picture height.
Not authorized by candidate’s committee
A radio or television communication that is not authorized by the candidate or candidate’s committee must also include (in addition to the statements identifying who paid for the communication and that it is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee) an audio statement that “(the name of the person or committee responsible for the communication) is responsible for the content of this advertising” and, if applicable, the name of the committee’s connected organization and a similar written statement.
Safe harbor for television communications
A still picture of the candidate shall be considered “clearly identifiable” if it occupies at least 80 percent of the vertical screen height. Disclaimers that are printed in black text on a white background, as well as disclaimers that have at least the same degree of contrast with the background color as the degree of contrast between the background color and the color of the largest text used in the communication, will be considered “clearly readable.”
Rates for political advertisements
Rates charged by newspapers and magazines for campaign advertising must be comparable to those charged for noncampaign advertisements. Rates charged for radio and television advertisements are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.