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Expenditures: Paid Communications

 

Paid Communications 101

Montana campaign finance law protects the public’s right to know who is paying to finance elections. Every Montanan must be able to look at any statewide political ad* and be able to know who financed the material in addition to telling it apart from other, similar activities.As a candidate or committee, you are required to disclose ad details to ensure transparency. You ensure Montanans elections remain transparent by reporting ads with enough detail so they are both distinguishable from other ads and are easily attributed back to their source. All election and electioneering communications are legally required to include attribution that identifies the entity that paid for the communication.

It is the candidate’s responsibility and obligation to understand and comply with all Montana campaign finance laws. While COPP staff is available to provide information and support to all candidates and treasurers, again, it is the candidate who is responsible for ensuring the campaign complies with all campaign finance requirements. Any expenditure activity –including social media ad buys—must be reported as detailed in 13-37-229(2), MCA and 44.11.502, ARM.

What is an election communication?

An "Election communication" means the following forms of communication to support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue:

-a paid advertisement broadcast over radio, television, cable, or satellite;
-a paid placement of content on the internet or other electronic communication network;
-a paid advertisement published in a newspaper or periodical or on a billboard;
-a mailing; or printed materials.

What is an electioneering communication?

 “Electioneering communication” means a paid communication that is publicly distributed by radio, television, cable, satellite, website, newspaper, periodical, billboard, mail, or any other distribution of materials, that is made within 60 days of an election, that does not support or oppose a candidate or ballot issue, that can be received by more than 100 recipients in the district voting on the candidate or ballot issue, and that:

-Refers to one or more clearly-identified candidates in the election
-Depicts the name, image, likeness, or voice of a candidate
-Refers to a political party, ballot issue, or other question on the ballot.

What must the attribution ("paid for by") information say?

The attribution must clearly identify the name and mailing address of the entity that paid for the communication.  It may also need to include a political party symbol. Committee attribution must also include the name of the Treasurer (see this Attribution Information page for more details).

 

Guidance on Reporting Paid Communication Expenditures

For any paid communication expenditure, you must report the following details about the material in a campaign finance report:

1. Platform: State the digital, radio, or print platform where your ad ran. Was it a Facebook ad?  Was it published in the local newspaper? Did you buy a google ad? The medium or platform the ad ran on needs to be specified within the Purpose description on the financial report.
2. Quantities: List the number of paid material or materials that ran. Did you run two ads in the local paper? Or boost five Facebook posts? Did you print 200 mailers? Did you pay for two billboards? Did you purchase 50 yard signs? The time frame, when available, must be reported. For example, a yard sign would not have a timeframe. Ads on Facebook or on a radio station run on a specific timeframe that must be reported (e.g. one boosted Facebook post on fiscal policy from June 8th-20th, 2019).
3. Description of the subject matter: Did your ad highlight your education platform? Maybe it covered details about your agricultural policies? Or does your ad share the top five reasons Montanans should vote for you? You must report a description of the ad’s content. This description must be specific enough to distinguish it from other potentially similar ads. For example, if you run three radio ads, you must report a description of each ad’s content: Radio ad 1: listed my local contributions and community involvement, Radio ad 2: described my public lands policy, Radio ad 3: Detailed my tax policy.

For more details, please see Montana Code Annotated 13-37-229 and Administrative Rule of Montana, 44.11.502.

How to Report Paid Communications (Examples)

1. Why is disclosure for and reporting of paid communications required?

Every time a candidate spends campaign money on a campaign communication, that communication must be disclosed in a campaign finance report.

Why is it important--and required--to disclose paid communications information?

Every Montanan must be able to look at any political ad and be able to easily determine who financed the material while being able to tell it apart from other, similar ads financed by that candidate. As a candidate, you are required to disclose ad expenditure details in campaign finance reports to ensure this transparency.

For a member of the public to identify a paid digital communication purchased by your campaign on your campaign finance report, they must be provided :

  1. 1. The platform the communication ran on,
  2. 2. The date(s) the communication ran, and
  3. 3. The subject matter of the ad.

These information fields are mirrored in CERS expenditure reporting fields (highlighted):

2. How to Report an Individual Ad

As explained above, every reported ad expenditure must always disclose: 1) the platform, 2) quantities [the number and/or dates of the communication], and 3) the communication's subject matter. For screenshots on individual Facebook ads, reference page 2 of this social media expenditure reporting guide

To see what this looks like, let’s say your campaign purchased three different ads related to the general election: a newspaper ad, a boosted Facebook post, and a mailer. Each unique advertisement must be reported in an expenditure in a campaign finance report with sufficient detail to be individually identifiable.

Example 1: Newspaper ad
The campaign purchased an ad in the local HelenaIR to cover the candidate's education platform. The below details for this expenditure must be reported in CERS: 

  • - Election Type: General
  • - Date: 10/16/2019 (the date the expenditure was incurred)
  • - Entity: Helena IR
  • - Purpose: Helena IR print ad- “Education is important”- ran 11/4/2019
  • - Amount: $120
Example 2: Boosted Facebook post
The campaign boosted a Facebook post about candidate Zinn's economic policy. The below details for this expenditure must be reported in CERS: 
  • - Election type: general
  • - Date: 
  • - Entity: Facebook
  • - Purpose: Facebook boosted post- “Zinn's economic policy" ran 10/28-11/5/19
  • - Amount: $40.00

Example 3: Candidate mailer

The campaign paid Print for Less to print and mail a mailer piece that covered the candidate's biography. The below details for this expenditure must be reported in CERS: 

  • - Entity: Print for Less
  • - Election Type: General election
  • - Date: 10/22
  • - Purpose: Campaign mailer- candidate biography- 500 printed and mailed
  • - Amount: $800

 

3. How to Report Multiple Ads that Run for Multiple Days

As explained above, every reported paid communication expenditure must disclose: 1) the platform, 2) the quantities the number and/or dates of the communication, and 3) the communication's subject matter. For screenshots on how to report specifically report social media ads that ran for multiple dates, reference Part 2 and Part 3 of this social media expenditure reporting guide

Example 1: How to Report a Single Radio Ad


Your campaign has decided to run one radio ad multiple times over the course of one week with the local radio station, KQAH. You would need to report the ad with the 1) platform identified, 2) the quantities (the dates it ran), and 3) a subject matter description:

    • - Entity: KQAH radio
    • - Election Type: General 
    • - Purpose: KQAH radio ad that ran from 10/20-10/29/2019, discussed candidate's experience and policy platforms
    • - Amount: $80.00

Example 2: How to Report Multiple Radio Ads Ran through the Same Radio Vendor


If your campaign decided to run SEVEN different ads over the course of a week with KQAH radio, you would need to report them so each individual ad can be distinguished since each ad was not the same as the other six ads:

First, the campaign will report the following details in CERS: 

    • - Entity: KQAH radio
    • - Election Type: General 
    • - Date: 10/30/2019
    • - Purpose: See addendum: 7 ads, ran 10/31-11/5/2019
    • - Amount: $230.00
Then, the campaign must email the Office of Political Practices an addendum that refers to the data referenced in the "Purpose" section. 
  • The campaign will then email cppcompliance@mt.gov an email that includes: 
    • Email subject: Identify that you are sending an addendum and the C-5 report it accompanies: Addendum for CANDIDATE NAME's C-5 campaign finance report (covering 10/1/2019-12/31/2019), $230 KQAH expenditure
    • In the email, identify the line item that the addendum links to: $230 KQAH expenditure (10/3019)
    • The COPP will upload the addendum's information to the CERS database.
    • Include the missing information in the email body or as an attachment.
      • -KQAH radio ads
        • Ad 1: Ran 10/31/2019, radio ad discussing candidate's community roots
        • Ad 2: Ran 11/1/2019, radio ad discussing candidate's qualifications
        • Ad 3: Ran 11/2/2019, radio ad discussing candidate's agricultural policy
        • Ad 4: Ran 11/3/2019, radio ad discussing candidate's vote on HB99
        • Ad 5: 11/4/2019, radio ad discussing candidate's fiscal policies
        • Ad 6: 11/4/2019, radio ad discussing candidate's educational priorities
        • Ad 7: 11/5/2019, radio ad reminding voters to vote on election day

4. How to Report Social Media Ad Expenditures that Use a Third-Party Vendor

 If the campaign utilizes a third-party vendor (such as a public relations or marketing firm) to post the campaign’s social media ads, that company would be listed as the “entity” for the expenditure on the relevant C-5 report. The specific social media platform the ad appeared on, the date or dates the ad was run, and a brief description of the content of the ad would be provided in the Purpose description for the ad. 

For screenshots on how to report a campaign expenditure to a third-party entity (such as a public relations firm) that manages a campaign's Facebook ad buys, reference Part 3 of this social media expenditure reporting guide

 


EXAMPLE 

If a campaign pays a third-party entity (such as a public relations or marketing firm) to manage its Facebook ad buys, all reporting and disclosure requirements for a paid communication remain the same. Any campaign advertisements purchased through a third-party vendor must still be individually identifiable on the candidate’s campaign financial reports.

For example, if ABC Strategies and Media purchased the below unique Facebook ad for $150,

The following information would be disclosed in CERS: 

  • Entity: ABC Strategies and Media
    Election Type: General
    Date of expenditure: 10/28/2019
    Purpose: Facebook ad, economic policy, ran 10/28-11/5/2019
    Amount: $40.00

5. Addendum: How to Include More Expenditure Detail

PLEASE NOTE that the CERS software limits a "Purpose" description (where you describe a paid communication) to 150 characters. If you have an expenditure for an ad, and all the required ad disclosure details (platform, quantities, and subject matter) cannot fit in the "Purpose" line, you can include an addendum in your campaign finance report to include the required details. (An addendum is the same thing as an attachment. It can also reference several line item details from a campaign finance report. The addendum must identify the specific line item [e.g. expenditure] it references.)

To include an addendum in your campaign finance report, this information is required: 

1. First, note in the "purpose" description in CERS  "See addendum" and include a brief description of the expenditure. For example, "See addendum, $150 Facebook ads"
2. Then, email cppcompliance@mt.gov

  • - Email subject:  Identify that you are sending an addendum and the C-5 report it accompanies by identifying the dates the report covers. 
  • - In the email, identify the line item the addendum links to. For example, "$150 Facebook expenditure details"
  • Include the missing information either in the email body or as an attachment. 

3. The COPP  will upload the addendum's information to the CERS database.


SAMPLE ADDENDUM
For example, if Candidate Zinn spent $150 for Facebook to run three ads, there will not be enough character space in CERS's "Purpose" data field to capture the detail of the $150 expenditure. 
 
First, Candidate Zinn will report the Facebook expenditure in CERS with the following detail: 
  • Entity: Facebook
  • - Election type: General
  • - Date of expenditure: 10/27/2019
  • - Purpose: See addendum: three Facebook ads
  • - Amount: $150
Then, Candidate Zinn will email the addendum to cppcompliance@mt.gov.
  • Email to: cppcompliance@mt.gov
  • Email from: treasurer@zinnformt.com
  • Subject line: Addendum for Harvey Zinn’s C5 campaign finance report (covering 10/1/2019-12/31/2019), $150 Facebook expenditure
  • Email body: Addendum for Harvey Zinn’s C5 campaign finance report (covering 10/1/2019-12/31/2019), for $150 Facebook ad buy (10/27/19)

    Facebook individual ad details:

                   

    Subject matter

    Dates ran

    Ad 1

    Economic policy

    Oct. 29-Nov. 5, 2019

    Ad 2

    Public safety plan

    Oct. 31-Nov. 5, 2019

    Ad 3

    Construction Trades Council Endorsement

    Nov. 1-Nov. 5, 2019

 

6. How to Report Social Media Ads (with Facebook-Specific Examples)

For a deep-dive into reporting social media ad expenditures, reference this Guide to Reporting Facebook Paid Communications. The information can easily translate to expenditures made for any social media ad buy. 

The guide details: 

  • Part 1: Report a campaign expenditure that purchased a Facebook ad
  • Part 2: Report a campaign expenditure for the purchase of multiple Facebook ads            
  • Part 3: Report a campaign expenditure to a third-party entity (such as a public relations firm) that manages a campaign’s Facebook ad buys

7. Training and PowerPoint on Reporting Social Media Expenditures

The Office of Political Practices hosted a training for 2020 candidates and treasurers on reporting social media expenses on December 5, 2019. 

The training covered: 

1. The Candidate’s Obligation to Know and Follow Montana Law
2. How to Report an Expenditure for a Paid Communication

     - How to Report an Individual Social Media Ad
     - How to Report Multiple Social Media Ads
     - How to Report Social Media Ads Managed by a Third-Party Vendor
3. How to Include an Addendum with an Expenditure
4. Attribution (Paid for By) Requirements 
5. FAQs
6. Attendee Questions

It is the candidate’s responsibility and obligation to understand and comply with all Montana campaign finance laws. While COPP staff is available to provide information and support to all candidates and treasurers, again, it is the candidate who is responsible for ensuring the campaign complies with all campaign finance requirements. Any expenditure activity –including social media ad buys—must be reported as detailed in 13-37-229(2), MCA and 44.11.502, ARM.

 

8. FAQs for paid communications

Q: In CERS, what “date” goes in the “date” field?

A: “Date” represents the date the expenditure was incurred to the individual, business, or other entity. This date must be reflected by your campaign bank account and must be “findable” if an audit occurs. Candidates should always remember that any campaign expenditure activity—including social media advertisements—must be reported using the date the expense was incurred, not the date an invoice was received or the campaign was otherwise billed.

If the exact cost of the activity is not known at that time, candidates must still report the expense but may provide a best guess estimate.

Q: My campaign paid for 12 Facebook ads. Do I need to report these ads individually?

A: It depends. While a candidate may always report each unique advertisement as a standalone expenditure in CERS (see Zinn’s Example 1, page 2), they may also report all paid communications purchased from a single vendor as one expenditure detailed by an addendum (see Zinn’s Example 2, pages 3-4).

Note that each vendor would require its own expenditure entry and individualized addendum so that the specific ads or activities involved can be easily identified.

In the example below, when a candidate discloses 12 Facebook ads as an expenditure for the reporting period of October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019, they could report their Facebook expenses for this reporting period as a batch total, with reference to an addendum.

How would this be reported? If the candidate spent $1,200 on 12 Facebook ads, the campaign will disclose this information in CERS and include an addendum: 

1. Report the Expenditure in CERS

- Entity: Facebook
- Date: 12/21/2019
- Purpose: See addendum: 12 Facebook ads, 10/112/31/2019
- Amount: $1,200

  1. Email the Office of Political Practices an addendum with the required Facebook ad details

- Email to: cppcompliance@mt.gov
- Email from: treasurer@candidateformt.com
- Subject line: 
Addendum for Candidate Name’s C5 campaign finance report (covering 10/1/2019-12/31/2019), $1,200 Facebook expenditure

- Information in the email body or included as an attachment: 

Addendum for C-5 campaign finance report (covering 10/1/2019-12/31/2019) for $1200 Facebook ad buy.

Candidate's Facebook ads from 10/1-12/31/2019

 

Subject matter

Dates ran

Ad 1

Candidate biographical video x 2

10/2-11/1, 12/2-12/9/2019

Ad 2

Candidate's education policy

11/15-11/22/2019

Ad 3

Photo of candidate and family reminding Montanans to vote

11/1-11/5/2019

Ad 4

Video of endorsement from Textile Workers of Montana

11/2-11/12/2019

Ad 5

Video of endorsement from Sugar Beet Farmers

11/8-11/22/2019

Ad 6

Candidate's economic experience

11/15-11/30/2019

Ad 7

Candidate's public lands policy x2

11/20-11/27, 11/29-11/30

Ad 8

Top 10 reasons to vote for candidate

11/21-12/13/2019

Ad 9

"Neighbors" with reasons to donate to candidate's campaign

11/30-12/4/2019

Ad 10

Candidate's conservation values

11/31-12/18/2019

Ad 11

Candidate's plan to create Montana jobs

12/1-12/20/2019

Ad 12

Happy holidays from candidate

12/1-12/27/2019

The campaign may also include the Facebook invoice totaling all Facebook ad buys the campaign made from 10/2-12/31/2019. The candidate must maintain records that can verify the amount spent in the case of an audit.

Q: I boosted a Facebook post on November 6th for five days. I’m going to re-boost the exact same post on November 20th for another five days. Do I need to report this again?

A: Yes. You can choose to report each boost individually (reference the Zinn example on Part 1,  page 2). Or, you can “batch” report ads as a single Facebook expenditure so long as the ad did not change in any way from the first boost to the second boost.  

Q: My campaign paid for an ad for the general election that ran on both Instagram and Facebook for the exact same dates. How do I report this?

A:  Because Facebook owns Instagram, and you paid Facebook for the ad to run on both Facebook and Instagram, you would report this expense as a single expenditure made to the entity of Facebook.

**The “purpose” section must note that the ad ran on both platforms.**

  • - Entity: Facebook, 1 Hacker way, Menlo Park, CA 94025
    - Election Type: General
    - Date: The date the expense was incurred. This must be reflected by the campaign bank statements (For example, 10/31/2020).
    - Purpose: “Instagram and Facebook ad: Top 10 Reasons to Vote Smith, ran 10/1-10/8/19”
    - Amount: $125 (the combined cost of both ads)

 

Printable PDF for "Requirements for Reporting Paid Communications" 

 


*For questions regarding federal candidates or elections, please contact the Federal Election Commission. They can be reached at www.fec.gov or 1-800-424-9530.