New sponsor identification requirements for certain political advertising and electioneering communications take effect July 28, 2019

Political committees that buy political advertising will have to provide more disclosure beginning July 28.

House Bill 1379, passed by the 2019 Legislature, expands sponsor disclosure requirements to include more information about the sources of  money for ads.

Political committees currently must identify their Top 5 contributors when running political advertising for 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.

Come July 28, there will have to be additional sponsor identification if the Top 5 list includes political committees. In those cases, the sponsor must determine the Top 3 donors to the political committees listed among the initial top 5.

The Top 3 donors to PAC contributors must be three individuals or entities other than political committees. If the Top 3 list includes a political committee, the sponsor must continue "drilling down" to determine other top contributing individuals or entities. 

Here's what that might look like:

PAC #1 sponsors an independent expenditure mailer supporting a candidate. Its Top 5 contributors are John Doe, PAC #2, PAC #3, Jane Smith and PAC #4. All of these names are included in the Top 5 contributor list.

The PAC sponsoring the ad then must decide who to include in the expanded sponsor ID through the following process:

  1. The sponsor must determine the Top 3 donors to each of PAC #2, PAC #3 and PAC #4. For example:
    • If PAC #2's and PAC #4's Top 3 donors are all individuals, all six will go on the list to be considered for the final Top 3.
    • If PAC #3's Top donors are two businesses and a new political committee, PAC #5, the sponsor must determine the Top 3 donors to PAC #5. All five contributors — the two businesses and the Top three donors to PAC #5 will be added to the list.
  2. Once the list contains only individuals or entities other than political committees, it is sorted by size of contribution. Here, the list would include the Top six contributors to PACs #2 and #4, and the five contributors to PAC #3.
  3. The Top 3 contributors from that list will be included on the Top 3 donors to PACs list, even if all three gave to a single PAC. 

The full sponsor identification message would say: "No candidate authorized this ad. It is paid for by PAC #1, 123 Market St., Olympia, WA.  Top 5 Contributors: John Doe, PAC #2, PAC #3, Jane Smith, PAC #4. Top 3 Donors to PAC Contributors: Bob Johnson, Acme Plumbing, XYZ Corporation."

PDC staff recommends that any donor that gave more than $1,000 during 12-month period preceding the date on which the advertisement is published or presented to the public be considered for the Top 3. If more than three contributors to a "Top 5" political committee tie for the top donation, the sponsor may select which three of those contributors to identify.

Other sponsor identification rules still apply (click on the link for more info):

  • For print ads and websites, the sponsor ID must be provided on the first page and in an area set apart from the ad text, using at least 10-point type. 
  • When necessary in TV or video ads, a political committee has the option of displaying its Top 5 and Top 3 contributor names on the screen for at least 4 seconds in letters greater than 4% of the visual screen height at a reasonable color contrast with the background. An abbreviation may be used when naming a Top 5 or Top 3 contributor, if the full name of the contributor is clearly spoken in the ad.

The Commission is writing rules to assist compliance with the new law. The rules will become effective after the general election, as required by state law. Anyone with suggestions or comments about the rule-making process can email pdc@pdc.wa.gov.