Ethics Commission
City and County of San Francisco

Online Political Ads – Who Paid for Them?

Did you see an online advertisement that featured a candidate or ballot measure in a San Francisco election? Are you curious about who paid for it? This page provides general information about how disclaimers can help you find out who paid for the ad that you saw online. It also explains which ads must have disclaimers and what to do if you see an ad that should have a disclaimer but does not.

What is a Disclaimer?

A disclaimer is a short message that identifies the committee who paid for the ad. An example of a disclaimer is “Ad paid for by Alice Jones for Mayor. Financial disclosures are available at sfethics.org.” This disclaimer tells you that a committee called “Alice Jones for Mayor” paid for the ad. It also tells you that you can visit the Ethics Commission’s website to see financial disclosures filed by that committee.

What information should a disclaimer include?

The specific language in a disclaimer can vary. The most basic disclaimer simply states the name of the committee that paid for the ad and states that you can find financial disclosures at sfethics.org. Certain disclaimers must also state the names of other people or committees that contributed money to the committee paying for the ad. These disclaimers will say “Major committee funding from” and list the names of the contributors.

Some ads that appear online, such as certain social media ads, don’t have to state the name of the committee that paid for the ad. However, such ads have to include a link to a webpage where you can view a full disclaimer. The link will say “Who paid for this ad?” and by clicking on this link you should able to see a full disclaimer.

What do I do if I am not familiar with the Committee that paid for the ad?

Sometimes, you will not recognize the name of the committee that is listed in the disclaimer. If you want to learn more about the committee, you can see information about it by visiting sfethics.org. The Commission’s Data Dashboards are the best way to see who contributed money to the committee and how the committee is spending its money. Click here to learn how to use the Data Dashboards.

Did you see an online ad without a disclaimer?

Not all ads that you see online require a disclaimer. An ad has to have a disclaimer only if it clearly refers to a candidate or ballot measure that will appear on the ballot. For example, ads that discuss a major political issue but do not refer to a candidate or ballot measure do not need to have a disclaimer.

Also, if displaying the disclaimer would be impracticable because of the specific technology used to make the communication, then a disclaimer may not be required. Additionally, the organization or person responsible for the ad may not be required to provide a disclaimer because they are spending less than $1,000 in total on all communications or have raised less than $2,000 in contributions.

If you believe you have seen an online political ad that fails to include a required disclaimer, you can contact an investigator at the San Francisco Ethics Commission by calling (415) 252-3100.

 

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