With campaign season in full swing, political advertisements are everywhere, and it’s not always clear—to candidates or the public—which rules govern those ads.
Among the many laws governing campaign finances, a few in particular cover ads, be they fliers that arrive in the mail or advertisements appearing in the pages of a newspaper.
Fliers and mailings of more than 500 copies, and any newspaper ad, must carry a note detailing what group or committee paid for the ad, such as “Citizens to elect …” or “The committee to elect … .”
But through error, confusion or oversight, those rules occasionally aren’t followed.
The Oct. 4 edition of The Asheville Tribune, for example, carried ads for Asheville City Council candidates Dwight Butner and Jan Davis. Butner’s ad carried no “legend”—a notice of who paid for the ad—at all, while the one for Davis had “Citizens to Elect Jan Davis” printed on it with the group’s address, but no indication that the group had paid for the ad.
“Newspaper ads always have to carry a legend, always,” Ralph Gable, an official with the North Carolina Board of Elections. “When every candidate files for office, they give a name like ‘Committee to Elect Joe Schmo.’ Every media ad has to carry that, unless it’s paid for by another group, in which case it carries their name.”
At press time, the Tribune had not responded to requests for comment. The Oct. 18 edition of the newspaper carried three more of the same ad for Davis.
Also in question is a flier mailed out by candidate Bill Russell, which did not disclose a legend. Another batch of fliers he sent out did, however.
Max Gough, deputy director of the Buncombe County Board of Elections, took a look at the flier as well as the Tribune ads and said there was no question that they should have indicated who paid for them.
“Looks like some folks aren’t paying attention,” Gough told Xpress after examining the ads.
Gough noted that any citizen who wished to file a complaint against any candidate’s ad could, and he would forward such complaints onto the state Board of Elections.
For his part, Butner said that the Tribune ad “was done at the last minute” and was a scanned copy of one of his fliers.
“The ad was a scan of the front panel; the back panel had that information on it,” Butner said. “It was my error, my mistake.”
Russell said that the lack of the notice on his fliers was the result of a printer’s error.
“After they’d been printed, I realized there wasn’t a notice on them, so I asked the printers to stamp that they were paid for by me on there,” Russell said. “They did on one batch, but they didn’t on another. So about 5,000 or so went out without that on them.”
Russell noted with a chuckle that “there was no malice behind it; it was a simple mistake.”
David Campbell of Mail Management, a printing-and-mailing company based in Asheville that sent the fliers out, said “we did what we were asked to do” and that they had received the ad from another company on behalf of Russell.
Davis also said he’d simply overlooked that the Tribune ad didn’t carry the “paid for by” notice.
“It was just an oversight,” he said. “Technically there might be some grief over that [not including the note], but what can I say? It wasn’t out of any malice or desire to hide who was paying for the ad. It was an omission and I apologize.”
Such incidents aren’t uncommon in campaign season, Gable said, noting that the “paid for by” rule had originally developed in response to attack ads.
“This sort of thing happens a lot—there’s been stuff like this in campaigns since we’ve had elections,” Gable said. “There are a lot of rules. You even have to put ‘paid for by’ on a banner you’re flying behind an airplane, even though no one can read it.”