FIRST FOR A REASON Info & Ideas About the First Amendment & Media Law POLITICAL ADVERTISING


We’ve been getting lots of questions about political advertising, thus this interim FFR. There are seven main things newspapers* need to know/do about political advertising.

· You cannot charge more than your customary rate for comparable advertising. G.S. § 163-278.18(a).

· You cannot favor one candidate over another with your rates. G.S. § 163-278.18(b).

· You can give volume or other discounts, so long as they are equally available to all political ad sponsors. G.S. § 163-278.18(b).

· You must have a paper trail of payments, so you cannot accept cash payments for political ads. Checks and credit cards are fine.

· Statements of Media Regarding Political Advertising – G.S. § 163-278.17

o You must get written authority for each expenditure from each person/organization making or authorizing an expenditure, and those records are deemed “public records” that must be available for inspection during normal business hours. G.S. § 163-278.17(a).

o You must keep the authorizations for two years from the election to which they relate. G.S. § 163-278.35.

o Failure to comply with these requirements is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

* Note: FCC license-holders have additional requirements related to maintaining a “public file,” equal time and similar regulations. For those rules, go to

With regard to the statutorily required “statement of media outlet receiving expenditures,” the State Board of Elections has created a form that is remarkably detailed. In fact, it’s overly detailed. We suggest instead that you collect and retain the bare minimum of information that is required. A sample form is attached here.

Everything else in the political advertising statutes – the requirement to put disclosures in advertisements, the regulation of how big the disclosures must be, etc. – are legal requirements for the advertiser to worry about, not you. Just for your background and edification, those basic are included in the attached Political Advertising Cheat Sheet, but under no circumstances should you be making those decisions or giving advice to political advertisers.

If you have specific questions about political advertising, or if you have other feedback to provide, email us at