February Hotline call of the month

Political advertising guidelines


I have fingers crossed that the many 2020 elections will bring an avalanche of ad dollars to your newspapers!  With those dollars come some regulation, though. Much as I think it is unconstitutional, North Carolina law imposes certain “public records” requirements on you because you are publishing political ads.  The law says that media organizations receiving payments for political advertising must comply with the following rules: 

  • Payment must be made by a verifiable form of payment.  G.S. § 163-278.8(e). Cash is not legal; check or credit card are.
  • You must keep certain documentation about who was authorized to place the ad.  (See below.) 
  • Documentation must be maintained for two years from the date of the election referenced in the advertisement, G.S. § 163-278.35.  
  • Documentation must be made be available for inspection during normal business hours.  G.S. § 163-278.17(b).

“Regular” Political Ads

For all media expenditures, the media organization must document, with signature, the person who is authorized to place the advertisement.  G.S. § 163-278.17(a)(see attached). The statute does not specify disclosure of the amount paid, the details of the ad placement or a schedule for ads – only “written authorization.”   You must somehow identify the ad, though, for which the authorization is applicable. A single page for each expenditure that simply says the following should suffice:

I, ____________________, hereby authorize the publication of advertisement(s) on ___[publication date(s)]___  on behalf of the candidacy of ______________________, who is seeking the office of ______________________. I am authorized to place this advertisement in accordance with the Campaign Reporting Act of the General Statutes of North Carolina.

SIGNED ______________________________________________________________

(Candidate, treasurer or individual authorizing expenditure)


Independent Expenditures

There are additional requirements for “independent expenditures.”  An expenditure is independent if it is not coordinated with the candidate or candidate’s campaign. In the context of a referendum, an expenditure is independent if there has not been consultation or coordination with a referendum committee.  A newspaper running a political ad that is an independent expenditure must record the name and address of the ad sponsor, as well as the disclosures required by G.S. 163-278.39(a). Section 278.39(a) is the statute that requires the “paid for” language.