The Public Disclosure Commission implements and enforces the campaign finance reporting requirements in Chapter 42.17A RCW and Title 390 WAC. During the fall of 2007, the Commission reviewed the approach of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) concerning online campaign activities (on the Internet). The Commission also reviewed current PDC statutes and rules, and gathered information from participants in the state and federal political campaign process about Internet campaign activities. In 2012, former RCW 42.17 was recodified to RCW 42.17A. In 2012-2013, the Commission studied new developments in online campaign activity, including the significant increase in online political advertising by campaigns. In 2013, the Commission determined it would update its rules and this guidance to reflect some of these changes.
The Commission’s intent in providing this Interpretation is based on state voters’ strong interest in public disclosure of campaign financing which allows the public to “follow the money.” However, the Commission also recognizes the evolving nature of the Internet, and that it often offers no-cost or low-cost opportunities for candidates, voters, bloggers and others to participate in the political process and increasingly, is being used to distribute political advertising. The focus of the agency has been to first apply current state laws and rules to Internet activity where possible, before promulgating new rules or amending current rules. The Commission has updated its rules where necessary to reflect changing technologies and use of those technologies by campaigns.
As a result, to provide guidance to state political campaign participants at this time and while technology, Internet use, and the laws continue to evolve, the Commission is providing this Interpretation of its laws and rules as they exist on June 24, 2013, and as they may impact online political campaign activities, and impact Internet users. Those approaches are explained in this Interpretation.
Readers are also encouraged to check the PDC’s website at www.pdc.wa.gov for any legislative changes or other developments in the law or rules. This Interpretation may also be subject to revision as the laws or rules are amended, or Internet usage develops and changes. Nothing in this interpretation should be construed as permitting other than full compliance with RCW 42.17A and Title 390 WAC.
If you have any questions after reading this, please contact the PDC toll-free at 1-877-601-2828. You may also e-mail the PDC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
General Approach and Guiding Principles
Answers to Questions about Online Campaign Activities in Washington
1. What online political advertising requires disclosure to the public (in a report filed with the PDC of what is paid and to whom) and a disclaimer (“paid for by”)?
Answer: By way of background, “political advertising” includes any advertising displays, newspaper ads, billboards, signs, brochures, articles, tabloids, flyers, letters, radio or television 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 any election campaign. RCW 42.17A.005. WAC 390-05-290 defines other political advertising terms, including “mass communication” and “online.”
Under state law, most “written political advertising” is to include the “sponsor’s name and address.” Under state law, “sponsor” means the person paying for the political advertising or independent expenditure. If a person acts as an agent for another or is reimbursed by another for the payment, the original source of the payment is the sponsor. RCW 42.17A.005. With advertising for which no payment is demanded or for which a cost is not readily ascertainable, the sponsor is the candidate, political committee, or person who solicits or arranges for the advertising to be displayed. WAC 390-18-010(2). Other disclosure requirements apply to certain ads, such information identifying a candidate’s party preference, or information describing the “Top 5 contributors.” RCW 42.17A.320. WAC 390-18-015 describes that disclaimer and disclosure requirements apply to online ads, unless exempted by statute or rule. There are some exemptions (exceptions) to disclaimer requirements for small or unusually-shaped ads. RCW 42.17A.320; WAC 390-18-030, and see further discussion below. The exemptions and partial exemptions from disclaimers for small or unusually shaped ads, including online ads that have space or character limits, are described in RCW 42.17A.320 and WAC 390-18-030.
Political committees must report expenditures for political advertising, including online political advertising. RCW 42.17A.240. Sponsors of many independent expenditures for online political advertising must also file reports with the Commission. RCW 42.17A.255; RCW 42.17A.260.
For more information, see the brochures on political advertising, electioneering communications, and independent expenditures on the PDC’s website at www.pdc.wa.gov. Click on “Filer Resources” then “Advertising Sponsors” or “Manuals/Brochures.”
2. What other online campaign activity, such as creating and maintaining websites or “blogging,” are subject to reporting or disclaimer (“paid for by”) or other requirements?
3. What “blogging”  activity by an unpaid individual is subject to reporting and disclaimer (“paid for by”) requirements?
Answer: Very little. In particular, uncompensated blogging by an individual who is not coordinating with a political committee or other entity is not subject to disclosure or disclaimer requirements. See WAC 390-18-030(4) for more details.
4. What about “tip jars” or other voluntary donations to bloggers?
Answer: A blogger who simply has a “tip jar” and has no direct payment arrangement with a candidate, campaign or political committee to post specific information in support or opposition to a candidate or campaign in exchange for the voluntary “tips” is not subject to any PDC regulatory requirements, nor is the donor.
5. Does the fact that a blogger otherwise sells advertising space place a reporting requirement on the blogger, if some of the space is sold to a candidate, political committee, or campaign?
Answer: No. However, if a blogger provides a candidate or political committee ad space for which the blogger usually charges a fee, but provides it to a candidate or campaign for less than fair market value, that is an “in kind contribution” to the campaign that is reportable by the candidate or political committee. WAC 390-16-207.
6. Can public agency employees create blogs on public agency computers to support or oppose candidates or campaigns?
Answer: No. Statutes prohibit use of public agency facilities (including computers) for political campaign purposes. RCW 42.17A.555 and RCW 42.52.180. Also see WAC 390-05-273, and PDC Interpretations 04-02, 01-03.
7. Does the statutory “media exemption” from what is considered a contribution extend to online media activities, including news media that exist only online?
Answer: Yes, if the statutory criteria in RCW 42.17A.005 are satisfied. The statute exempts from what is considered a contribution those communications that meet all the following criteria:
8. Does this media exemption apply to blogs and bloggers, too?
Answer: Yes, if the statutory criteria in RCW 42.17A.005 are satisfied. In addition, under current rule, political advertising does not include “letters to the editor, news or feature articles, editorial comment or replies thereto in a regularly published newspaper, periodical, or on a radio or television broadcast where payment for the space or time is not normally required.” WAC 390-05-290. Also see WAC 390-16-313 (independent expenditures exemption) and WAC 390-16-206 (ratings and endorsements by news media).
9. What about mass distribution of e-mails that urge persons to vote for or against a candidate or ballot measure, or otherwise constitute political advertising? Are there reporting or disclaimer (“paid for by”) requirements?
Answer: The cost to a candidate or committee that is associated with purchasing an e-mail address list would be a reportable expenditure, just like any other expenditure.
In addition, as described in Question # 1, political advertising includes a “mass communication” used for the purpose of appealing, directly or indirectly, for votes or for financial or other support or opposition in any election campaign. RCW 42.17A.005. “Mass communication” includes 100 or more e-mails that are identical or substantially similar in nature, directed to specific recipients, and sent within a 30-day period. WAC 390-05-290(1)(f). E-mails that are a “mass communication” must include the disclaimers required under RCW 42.17A.320, unless exempted by statute or rule. For example, there are exemptions for individuals acting independently of a campaign and using their own modest resources, and for political advertising sent only to an organization’s members. See the criteria in WAC 390-18-030(4).
These e-mail provisions do not apply where other statutes prohibit use of public agency facilities (including computers and e-mail systems) for campaign purposes, such as RCW 42.17A.555 or RCW 42.52.180. Also see WAC 390-05-273, and PDC Interpretations 04-02, 01-03.
10. What happens when a candidate announces online that he/she is running for office? For example, they post a notice on their Facebook page or upload a video to YouTube, explaining they are running for office.
Answer: They must file a Candidate Registration Form (C-1) and Personal Financial Affairs Statement (F-1) with the PDC within two weeks.
This is because by law, a person becomes a candidate when they do one of these things: raise or spend money for their campaign; reserve space or purchase advertising to promote their candidacy; announce publicly that they are seeking office; file a declaration of candidacy; or, authorize someone to do any of these activities. RCW 42.17A.005. Once he or she becomes a candidate, that person must file the F-1 and C-1 forms. “Announce publicly” includes announcements made online such as through a website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or through other similar means.
11. Has the Commission provided guidance to campaigns seeking contributions over the Internet, or through other means?
Answer: Yes. See PDC Interpretation 00-02 (Guidelines for Contributions Made Over the Internet, Via 1-900 Numbers and Using Other Technologies Such as Text Messages.)
12. Will the Commission examine and possibly revise this Interpretation in the future if new or other questions are raised, if laws or rules are amended or new provisions adopted, if technology changes, or if Internet use changes?
 RCW 42.17A.255 provides in part that “within five days after the date of making an independent expenditure that by itself or when added to all other such independent expenditures made during the same election campaign by the same person equals one hundred dollars or more” the person making the expenditure must file a report with the PDC. RCW 42.17A.260 provides that the sponsor of political advertising who, within twenty-one days of an election, publishes, mails, or otherwise presents to the public political advertising supporting or opposing a candidate or ballot proposition that qualifies as an independent expenditure with a fair market value of one thousand dollars or more shall deliver, either electronically or in written form, a special report to the commission within twenty-four hours of, or on the first working day after, the date the political advertising is first published, mailed, or otherwise presented to the public.
 A blog (“web log”) is a website where entries are written in chronological order and commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject such as food, politics, or local news. A blog can combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.
See Also: PDC Interpretation 00-02 (Guidelines for Contributions Made Over the Internet, Via 1-900 Telephone Numbers, and Using Other Technologies Such As Text Messages)