After getting one too many political ads in my Facebook newsfeed, I started paying closer attention to the "Paid for by" language that I expect to see on every paid political campaign message. The mayoral candidates for the City of Ann Arbor all have some work to do to get their disclosures in order for the 2014 campaign.
I looked for campaign disclosures on Facebook pages, on Twitter feeds, and on event pages created by the campaign on Facebook. I also looked generally at Google, searching for the phrase in question. The four candidates for the Democratic side of the Ann Arbor mayoral ballot are Stephen Kunselman, Sally Hart Petersen, Sabra Briere and Christopher Taylor.
Stephen Kunselman: while I can find a "Kunselman for Council" web site, I can't locate a "Kunselman for Mayor" web site. The candidate's Facebook page doesn't mention the candidacy that I can see. I haven't seen any ads from the candidate yet.
Sally Hart Petersen: No search results on Google for the mayoral campaign. A Facebook page for the candidate has 294 likes; in the header, it says "Paid for by the Committee to Elect Sally Hart Petersen to Mayor", but that header omits the expected address of the committee. I haven't seen any ads for the candidate yet.
Sabra Briere: A search for "Paid for by Sabra Briere for Mayor" generates two pages. The http://sabrabriereformayor.org/ web page has "Paid for by Sabra Briere for City Council" at the bottom, in white type on a yellow background making it virtually unreadable; it also has bunches of Latin text where the real text should be, making me suspicious that it's not real. On Facebook, the page "Vote for Sabra for Ann Arbor Mayor in the Democratic Primary on Tuesday August 5th 2014" has invited 500 people, but has no "Paid for by" disclosure. I haven't seen any ads for the candidate yet.
UPDATE from Sabra Briere:
Clearly, sabrabriereformayor.org is a non-working website. A completely different set of pages should be up soon - but in the meantime, I changed the accent yellow to an accent blue - so the white lettering is now higher contrast.
It isn't at all ready to be published, and is just there as filler for now.
Christopher Taylor: A search for "Paid for by Christopher Taylor for Mayor" has 49 results, from the candidate's own web site and from "ngpvanhost". (NGP VAN is a campaign website hosting platform for Democrats.) The "Christopher Taylor for Ann Arbor" Facebook page has 686 likes, with no "Paid for by" until you get to the "Contribute" page. Facebook ads for Taylor say "Sponsored", but do not disclose who is paying for them in either the text of the ad or in the image associated with the ad.
UPDATE from Christopher Taylor:
My understanding is that we included the proper disclosure language in the initial ad, but that for some reason it is not appearing. We're on it and will fix it pronto.
I appreciate the notification.
Are any of these clearcut campaign violations? Probably not. The relevant text of the law is "Any other medium used for campaign purposes shall clearly and unequivocally include the identification or disclaimer, or both, provided in section 47 of the act." Michigan campaign finance law has not been updated to provide specific rules for Facebook (or Twitter), so you can't point to a specific line of text that says "you did this wrong". Without specific guidance, there's wiggle room, and a wait for an opinion from the Attorney General.
Is this "flyspecking", as one candidate described my efforts, or mere "piffle" as another political operative chided me? It's still early in the race, but expectations are that this will be one of the most expensive political races in Ann Arbor mayoral history, with four primary campaigns going and an empty mayoral seat at stake. I fully expect my Facebook timeline and Google search results to be full of paid advertising, and that that advertising will get more and more political as the primary draws near. Close attention to who is paying how much for what is worthwhile, especially in the presence of "free media" like Facebook where you can sent out an unrelenting stream of updates and invites at no obvious direct cost to anyone except the poor reader who just wants to see funny cat videos.