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Florida Election Laws May Adapt to New Media Demands

A case that penalized St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Scott Wagman for using Google ads in his campaign could lead to a new law making the practice acceptable in political races across the Sunshine State.

Both Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, and Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, intend to file legislation that would address a Florida Elections Commission ruling that said using link ads on Google, Facebook and other sites is illegal.

The problem arose when a complaint was filed against Wagman who used Google click ads that do not say who paid for them, which is against election law. The Wagman campaign contended that it was impossible to provide the disclaimer because the ads contain a character limit.

Eisnaugle said in a press release that being required to post a disclaimer on a Google or other similar ad would be impractical and that election law currently does not even address new media that many political campaigns now use.

“Voters need transparency to clearly understand who is paying for campaign advertising, but the state’s laws should not be archaic,” he said via a press release. “I believe working together we can craft commonsense election laws that keep up with these rapidly growing technologies and preserve the integrity of the elections process.”

Wagman has said he would fight the election commission's decision.

Deutch filed similar legislation in 2008, but it failed in committee. It would have exempted ads of 300 words or fewer or ads that were 30,000 square pixels or fewer from the requirement of posting the disclaimer. Legislative analysis on his 2008 bill was not conducted, so there is no immediate known impact of the proposal.

Deutch said Wednesday that he too planned to file legislation addressing the issue and that he hoped that a bipartisan push from both chambers for the bill would persuade the Legislature to take it up during the 2010 Legislative session. Deutch's 2008 bill did not have a House counterpart.

“Florida’s election laws do not reflect the dramatic growth of electronic advertising over the last several years,” he said in a release. “The increased use of search engines like Google, and the explosion of social networking sites, has given politicians instant access to millions of Floridians.”

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