What are the rules for political third-party ads?

Oct 8, 2020, 2:58 PM
4th Congressional District, Burgess Owens pulls ahead 2,095 votes in Utah’s 4th District...
Rep. Ben McAdams, and Republican challenger Burgess Owens both pictured in 2020 file photos. (Scott G Winterton and Steve Griffin, Deseret News)
(Scott G Winterton and Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

If a person or a group — often called a political action committee (PAC) — wants to help elect or defeat a candidate in an election but isn’t affiliated with the candidate or his/her campaign, what are the rules they have to play by? Political ads have their own very specific guidelines as set out below. 

What is a PAC?

The FEC (Federal Election Commission) defines a PAC as a “popular term for a political committee that is neither a party committee nor an authorized committee of a candidate.”

“A political action committee (PAC) is a 527 organization (U.S. tax-exempt group) that pools campaign contributions from members and donates those funds to campaigns for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation,” according to Wikipedia.

Disclaimer is a must

According to the FEC, public communications (defined here) by a political committee that “do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified federal candidate or seek a contribution” must display a “clear and conspicuous” disclaimer on public internet websites and certain emails.

Who’s paying for it?

If a candidate or his or her campaign OKs a PAC to pay for an ad, the communication must state who paid for it and the state that it was authorized by the candidate or campaign.

Example: “Paid for by the XYZ Committee and authorized by the Sam Jones for Congress Committee.”

Communications not approved by a candidate or his or her campaign must contain a disclaimer saying who paid for it and whether if was authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. The disclaimer must state the full name of the individual, group, political committee, corporation or labor organization paying for the communication or ad.

Example: “Paid for by the Fishermen’s Union PAC ( and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”

Additional regulations apply to political print, television and radio ads, according to the FEC.

Rules for TV

Approved and unapproved TV ads must have a readable written statement at the end that appears for at least four seconds, displayed with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the disclaimer text. The written statement must be at least equal to 4% of the vertical picture height.

Radio and TV ads authorized by or paid for by a campaign must include an audio statement from the candidate identifying himself/herself and approving the communication.

For example: “I am [candidate’s name], a candidate for [federal office], and I approved this advertisement.”

The TV ad must include:

  • A full-screen view of the candidate making the statement or
  • An image of the candidate occupying no less than 80% of the vertical picture height, with a voiceover by the candidate.

For radio or TV ads not authorized by a candidate of candidate’s committee, the person or group (political committee, corporation, labor organization) paying for the ad must make an audio statement, saying ““XXX is responsible for the content of this advertising.”  The ad or communication must also state that it is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Rules for printed material

For printed communications, the disclaimer must be in a printed box set apart from the contents of the communication. The disclaimer font (or type) size must be “clearly readable” and the print must have a reasonable degree of contrast between the background and the printed message. Black text in 12-point type on a white background satisfies this requirement for printed material measuring no more than 24 inches by 36 inches.

Rates for political ads

Rates charged by newspapers and magazines for campaign advertising must be comparable to those charged for non-campaign ads. Rates charged for radio and TV ads are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Today’s Top Stories

Your Voice, Your Vote

ballot count amendments utah...
Lindsay Aerts

County clerks report more poll watchers, scrutiny ahead of Utah primary

Ahead of the 2022 Utah Primary election, clerks Salt Lake and Utah counties are reporting more poll watchers are serving as watchdogs.
15 days ago
Utahns could get a tax cut....

Utah Senate passes a tax cut for Utahns, Gov. Cox says he will sign it

The Utah Senate just unanimously passed a bill, giving Utahns a big tax cut. People in the state could see $193 million back in taxes.
5 months ago
utah poll unfavorable to president biden...
Mary Richards

New poll shows low favorability in Utah for President Biden

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that 45% of Utah residents have a favorable opinion of President Joe Biden, while 3% aren’t sure.
1 year ago
Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read the final certifica...

Biden win confirmed after violent pro-Trump protestors storms US Capitol

Congress has confirmed Democrat Joe Biden as the presidential election winner, hours after violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.
1 year ago
president trump trial...
ZEKE MILLER and JILL COLVIN Associated Press

Trump says his term is ending, transition will be orderly

President Donald Trump says there will be an “orderly transition on January 20th” now that Congress has concluded the electoral vote count certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
1 year ago
(Some of the flags and signs outside the Utah State Capitol.  Credit: Paul Nelson)...
Paul Nelson

Hundreds participate in “Stop The Steal” rally at Utah State Capitol

Hundreds of President Trump’s supporters in Utah gather on the Capitol grounds to protest what they call the stealing of the presidential election. 
2 years ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
What are the rules for political third-party ads?