California lawmakers are considering new rules for political advertising

SACRAMENTO, California – Elections come and go, but the political advertising season sometimes seems to never end.

For example, Facebook users in California in the past few months may have noticed ads showing a woman with duct tape over her mouth and warning text: “Legislators leave public university sexual assault survivors to dry.”

The ads urge readers to sign a petition aimed at including public universities in legislation that would give students at private universities more time to sue their schools for sexual assault.

“This is about well-funded, sophisticated special interests,” said Mullin, a Democrat from San Mateo.

Proponents say the move would be the first in the U.S. to address what they believe is a burgeoning problem in the world of influence, as stakeholders take advantage of the anonymity offered by the internet and social media advertising.

“I’ve never seen so many spending ads,” said Trent Lange, president and executive director of the California Clean Money Campaign, which sponsors Mullins’ bill.

Critics argue that the proposed bill would discourage grassroots activism, especially around hot topics.

Current law requires groups lobbying California lawmakers to disclose issues such as advertising in routine quarterly filings with the Secretary of State.

But an ad campaign may be over by this point, and groups don’t necessarily have to state which ads they funded, noted Kati Phillips, spokeswoman for Common Cause California reform group, which supports Mullins’ bill.

Finding out exactly who is behind an advertising campaign to influence legislation in the California Capitol can be a trip through corporate records, political issues disclosures, and anonymous social media sites – all of which can sometimes lead to a dead end.

Mullin’s legislation would apply to groups that spend more than $ 10,000 per year on ads about pending laws or regulations. A disclaimer at the end of such ads should include not only the group behind the ad, but also the top three donors if they donated more than $ 10,000. Some political messages – such as emails to group members, small buttons, or skywriting – would be exempt.

The California Teachers Association and several other unions – big funders in California politics – have spoken out against the law, saying it would stifle advocacy.

David Keating, president of the Institute for Freedom of Expression in Washington, DC, argued that asking a group to publish the names of their top three funders in advertisements could discourage people from supporting campaigns implicated on divisive issues.

That would mean fewer ads and law awareness campaigns, he said.

“You will get less speeches, less information about what is going on in Sacramento,” argued Keating.

There are more examples of anonymous advertising campaigns in this session.

In many parts of California, tune on talk radio or check Facebook and you might see an ad of pending laws that would cap the interest rate lending companies charge on installment loans at hundreds of digits.

The commercials are part of a campaign called Don’t Lock Me Out California, which argues that the proposed bill would leave customers with fewer options when they need quick cash in an emergency.

Click the group’s ads on Facebook where they’ve spent more than $ 26,000 reaching Californians and there’s no contact information. The ads don’t state who is paying for the news urging Californians to ask their lawmakers to vote against the law.

However, Federal Communications Commission records show that the Online Lenders Alliance, a national trade group advocating the industry, bought time from radio stations in the Sacramento area to broadcast Don’t Lock Me Out California ads. The group does not necessarily have to register with the State Secretariat.

Spokesman Andrew Ricci said the alliance made no financial contribution to the campaign, which he described as the work of a coalition that includes members of the Online Lenders Alliance as well as organizations that are not members of the group. He declined to identify other members of the coalition.

Elevate Credit Services, based in Fort Worth, Texas, said it spent more than $ 100,000 in the first quarter of the year to influence the state government in addition to its fees to lobbyists.

It also reported lending lobbying. When asked if it is funding the “Don’t Lock Me Out” campaign in California, spokeswoman Marian Daniells said only that Elevate Credit Services does not comment on “government-related expenses”.


The invoice is AB1217.

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