On Social Media and The Current Disclosure Regime

From The City:

Campaign committees for Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan/The Bronx) have paid nearly $15,000 to bloggers for posting hundreds of flattering articles dating to his first run for Congress in 2016, Federal Election Commission filings show.

The bloggers’ posts do not disclose their financial ties with the Espaillat campaign — exploiting a legal gray area as paid social media influencers play a growing role in campaigns nationally.

Two of those bloggers have also received payments from four candidates for City Council in the election that ends next Tuesday — classified in campaigns’ filings as “communications” or “advertising.” All the Council candidates campaigned with or were endorsed by Espaillat.

The Council contenders also have reaped favorable articles written by the bloggers, without disclosure to readers of the payments.

Under Federal Election Commission rules that apply to Espaillat and other members of Congress, only content that explicitly advises who to vote for — or not vote for — must include a disclosure that the campaign paid for the advertisement.

The city Campaign Finance Board has even narrower disclosure rules — only requiring a notice that a campaign paid for a post if the campaign wrote or co-wrote the article or script.

Local and national election watchdogs worry the social media influencer exemption from disclosures leaves voters unaware when campaigns are paying for posts.

“Voters always have a right to know how candidates are spending money to influence votes. And paid social media influencers can have a significant impact on voters and on elections,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of campaign ethics watchdog group Common Cause New York.

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