Self-Regulation in Political Advertising

“Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.” That’s what humorist Will Rogers said about political campaigns in the 1930s, well before the advent of digital advertising. 

According to the US Federal Election Commission, candidates for the US Senate and House of Representatives spent a record $5.25 billion dollars on advertising in their quest for public office in 2018. Projections for 2020 Congressional campaign spending top $6 billion. 

While Will Rogers was more concerned about the cost of political campaigns, today there is concern about the content of political ads. With so many forms of political advertising and so many sources of content, it’s hard for even the most seasoned political animal to know how to judge campaign ads.

Help is on the way. This year, the BBB National Programs’ Digital Advertising Accountability Program (DAAP) will be monitoring online content to ensure political advertisers follow best practices. Jon Brescia & Ayaz Minhas of the BBB National Programs recently joined the BBB National Programs’ >Better Series Podcast to discuss the new program. 

“After the 2016 election, there were numerous hearings in Congress about speech on the internet regarding the election and the politics of it,” explained Minhas, the DAAP’s Manager for Data Privacy & Digital Programs. “We’re concerned with something called express advocacy – that’s paid political speech advocating the election or defeat of a particular candidate for federal or statewide office.”

The new Political Advertising Principles are designed to give voters more transparency into political ads and provide for what Brescia, DAAP’s Vice President, calls the core of an important concept in American election law…transparency. “The point is to let voters know who paid for a given ad so they can do things like vet the message against the public reputation of the speaker or to investigate maybe why, for example, a certain ad that’s pro a particular candidate was funded by a particular industry group.” 

The BBB National Programs operates ten self-regulatory programs that are trusted by both businesses and consumers. The new Political Advertising Transparency Project (PATP) extends that experience to help strengthen trust in the area of national concern.

“One of the missions of the organization is to promote trust in the marketplace so businesses and consumers can work together,” noted Brescia. “We think by creating transparency around the origin of political content online, it can help rebuild trust in some of these digital environments where the political world is overlapping. This is a perfect moment for self-regulatory programs like ours to help address these issues.”

You can learn more about the BBB National Program’s Political Advertising Transparency Project by listening to <Better Series Podcast or reading the PATP blog.