Political advertising is ...

advertising displays, newspaper ads, billboards, signs, brochures, articles, tabloids, fliers, letters, radio or TV presentations, or other means of mass communication, used for the purpose of appealing, directly or indirectly, for votes or for financial or other support or opposition in an election campaign.

"Mass communication" is a message intended to reach a large audience through any of the methods described above as well as periodicals, sample ballots, websites, emails, text messages, social media, and other online or electronic formats enabling the exchange of communication.  Sending 100 or more identical or substantially similar letters, emails or text messages to specific recipients within a 30-day period is an example of mass communication.

General requirements:

Candidate Photos ...

At least one of the photos used in an ad must have been taken within the last five years and it may not be smaller than the largest candidate photo in the ad.

Party preference ...     

must be included in any form of advertising about a candidate seeking election to a partisan office, regardless of who sponsors the ad.  Official symbols or logos adopted by the state committee of the party may be used to indicate a candidate's party preference in political advertisements instead of words.

Acceptable abbreviations that may be used for party preference are:

Communist:  Com

Constitution:  CP

  Democrat:  D, Dem, Demo 

Independent or unaffiliated:  Ind, Indep

Libertarian:  L, LP, LBT, LBTN

  Progressive, P, PP, Prog

  Republican:  R, GOP, Rep (use Rep only if it does not falsely imply the candidate is an incumbent State Representative)

Socialist:  Soc

Socialist Workers:  Soc Workers, SWP

Sponsor Requirements

Sponsor identification is required for political advertising, except for certain types of ads that are listed in the exempt from sponsor identification section.  There are no exemptions for party preference.  The "sponsor" is the candidate, committee, or other person who pays for the ad.  When the person buying the ad is an agent for another person or is otherwise reimbursed, the sponsor is the ultimate spender.  When no payment is demanded or the cost is not readily ascertainable, the sponsor is the person who arranges for the ad to be displayed or broadcast.  The PDC has separate instructions that explain the unique sponsor ID requirements for electioneering communications and independent expenditures.

Use the words "paid for by" or "sponsored by" followed by the sponsor's name & address.  Include all sponsors' names and addresses when there is more than one.  
A political committee must include its Top 5 contributors' names when sponsoring an ad about a ballot measure with a cost of at least $1,000 in the aggregate, or when making an independent expenditure for or against a candidate. If the Top 5 includes any political committees, the sponsor must also list the Top 3 donors to the political committees.* The Top 3 donors to PAC contributors must be three individuals or entities other than political committees. 
The sponsor determines the Top 5 and Top 3 lists by considering the largest contributors who gave at least $1,000* during the 12 months before the ad appears. In the case of a tie among the top contributors, meaning multiple contributors have given the same amount, the political committee sponsor may choose which will be named. *Effective July 28, 2019

Print ads & websites - display sponsor ID and any party preference in an area set apart from the ad text on the first page of the ad.  Use at least 10-point type; do not screen or half-tone the text.  Exceptions -

  • Billboards/posters must display sponsor ID in type that is at least 10% of the largest size type used in the ad; and
  • Small online ads with limited characters may display sponsor ID & party preference in an automatic display such as a mouse tip/rollover or nonblockable pop-up that remains visible for at least 4 seconds OR on a webpage that is conspicuously linked to the small ad and reached with one mouse click.

Broadcast ads, videos, and online audio ads - clearly identify or speak the sponsor's name and any party preference.  (Sponsor's address not required.)  When necessary in TV or video ads, a political committee has the option of displaying its Top 5 contributor names on the screen for at least 4 seconds in letters greater than 4% of the visual screen height on a solid black background on the entire bottom one-third of the television or visual display screen.  An abbreviation may be used when naming a Top 5 contributor, if the full name of the contributor is clearly spoken in the ad.

Items Exempt from Sponsor ID:

  • Campaign paraphernalia, including novelty or sundry items intended for individual distribution and use, with a printing surface area smaller than 4" x 15", including expandable surface area such as a balloon when expanded, or where such identification is otherwise impractical to provide a readable text.
  • Newspaper ads of one column inch or less (excluding online ads)
  • Reader boards where a message is affixed in movable letters, or skywriting
  • State or local voter's pamphlets published pursuant to law
  • Yard signs - size 4' x 8' or smaller.

The sponsor's name & address may be left off of a political ad that meets all of the following criteria:

  • the sponsor is an individual acting on his or her own behalf, independent of any candidate, political committee or organization, who personally produces and distributes the ad (or pays for it to be produced and/or distributed);
  • the sponsor receives no contributions or other support to produce and distribute the ad;
  • no more than $50 in the aggregate is spent for online advertising or $100 in the aggregate for any other type of advertising; and
  • the advertising is EITHER distributed through the individual's social media site, personal website, or similar online forum where information is produced and disseminated only by the individual OR  a letter, flier, handbill, text or email from the individual that does not appear in a newspaper or comparable mass publication.

False political advertising:

It is illegal to sponsor a political ad, with actual malice, that contains a statement constituting libel or defamation per se* if the statement:

  • directly or indirectly implies a candidate has the support or endorsement of any person or organization when the candidate does not (unless the statement is made by the person or organization),
  • is a false statement of material fact about a candidate,** or
  • falsely represents that a candidate is an incumbent.

*See RCW 42.17A.335(2) for a definition of libel and defamation per se.

**Unless a candidate is making a statement about him or herself or the statement is made by the candidate's agent about the candidate.

It is also illegal to:

  • use an assumed name for sponsor ID in a political ad;
  • distribute campaign material deceptively similar in design or appearance to the voter and candidate pamphlets published by the Secretary of State, or
  • use the state seal or its likeness to assist or defeat a candidate.

Describing candidates in ads:

Incumbent is the person who is in the office now, regardless of whether the individual was appointed or elected.
Re-Elect means that the candidate holds the office now by election and is seeking another term in the same office OR  that the candidate was elected to the office in the past, but is not the incumbent, in which case the ad must clearly state that the candidate is not the incumbent.
Retain can be used for any incumbent.
Return represents that the candidate holds, or has previously held, the office being sought.
Do not falsely imply incumbency in a political advertisement about a candidate who does not hold the office.  Recommended format:  Elect Tracy Jones Auditor or Tracy Jones for Auditor.

photo of campaign signsSign Placement:

The Washington State Department of Transportation regulates when and where campaign signs can be placed along Interstate highways, primary highways, and highways that are part of the Scenic and Recreational system.  Check with your city’s or county’s public works departments for regulations governing campaign signs in those jurisdictions.

The information contained in online instructions has been distilled from the requirements set out in RCW 42.17A and Title 390 WAC, as well as the Public Disclosure Commission's declaratory orders and interpretations. Care has been taken to make the instructions accurate and concise.  Nevertheless, the instructions cannot be substituted for the applicable laws and rules