Meredith McCoy provides experienced guidance to businesses, tax-exempt organizations, individuals, and political groups in their efforts to impact public policy and the political process. Meredith works with clients to understand their goals and make tailored recommendations for complying with the range of laws that may affect their plans, including tax, campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, gift and ethics, and pay-to-play laws. Her previous experience as an attorney for the Federal Election Commission helps her foresee compliance challenges and evaluate risks facing Venable’s clients. She is skilled at providing practical, user-friendly guidance that helps clients make informed decisions and achieve their objectives.

The Federal Election Commission has issued an advisory opinion making it much easier for federal candidates to offload their paid canvassing programs onto state PACs, nonprofits, and super PACs. While the campaign will need to pay for access to data collected, outside groups can now coordinate their canvassing activities—including the content of messages that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of federal candidates—with the candidates themselves.

In the request, a state political committee proposed hiring vendors to canvass potential voters before the election and distribute literature that would expressly advocate for the election or defeat of both state and federal candidates. The committee planned to “coordinate” its canvass by collaborating with federal candidates on aspects like strategy and messaging. Was this, requestors asked, an in-kind contribution to the federal candidates that a state committee like this one is prohibited from making? To this, the Commission answered no.Continue Reading FEC Allows Nonfederal Committee to Coordinate Paid Canvassing Efforts with Federal Candidates

As campaigns explore new ways to harness artificial intelligence, regulators are rushing to keep pace ahead of the 2024 elections. The explosion in generative AI has put pressure on lawmakers and advertising platforms alike to stay ahead of deepfakes, voice clones, and other political advertising that may deceive voters or spread misinformation, all while balancing the promise of “friendly” applications that increase efficiency and affordability in campaign tools.

But regulating AI in political communications poses unique challenges. What qualifies as deceptive advertising? Can deceptive uses of AI be banned, given the First Amendment’s special protections for political expression? Who is regulating AI-generated political ads, and who is responsible for enforcing any controls? Do advertising platforms have a role in policing the content?

Venable’s Political Law Practice Group is monitoring ongoing efforts to regulate AI in political advertising at the federal, state, and industry levels. The following highlights some of these efforts and the emerging trends.Continue Reading Synthetic Content, Real Regulations: Regulation of Artificial Intelligence in Political Advertising

Is a phone call that uses artificial intelligence to imitate a real person “an artificial or prerecorded voice,” subject to the restrictions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act? The Federal Communications Commission unanimously answered yes in a recent declaratory ruling, foreclosing creative arguments that a “voice clone” is a live call and not an artificial voice subject to the nearly 35-year-old law. The decision, which comes just weeks after thousands of New Hampshire voters reportedly received robocalls impersonating President Biden’s voice urging them not to vote in the state’s primary, has important implications for use of the burgeoning technology in the 2024 elections.

As campaigns and their supporters experiment with new uses for AI technology, the FCC’s declaratory ruling immediately extends existing protections of the TCPA to AI-generated calls, such as those pretending to be a candidate, surrogate, or other voice trusted by the recipients. The ruling will immediately require callers that use AI technologies to simulate human voices to obtain the express consent or express written consent of recipients before calls are placed to residential or wireless numbers, unless an emergency purpose or TCPA exemption applies. AI-generated calls will also need to provide certain identifying information about the party responsible for placing the calls and offer certain opt-out rights.Continue Reading Citing Upcoming Elections, FCC Extends TCPA to Cover AI-Generated Content

Eyeing the prospect of candidate “deepfakes” in the 2024 elections, the Federal Election Commission has joined the debate on artificial intelligence (AI), voting unanimously at its August 10 meeting to move forward with a rulemaking on deceptive campaign ads.

The rapid acceleration of generative AI has raised questions about how the technology could be deployed to mislead voters, for example, by creating video or audio of a candidate saying something damaging they never in fact uttered. With these questions in mind, the Commission voted to ask the public for comment on whether the agency should initiate a formal rulemaking to ban “deliberately deceptive Artificial Intelligence campaign ads,” often referred to as “deepfakes.”Continue Reading Federal Election Commission Seeks Comments on AI in Campaign Ads

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has announced new contribution limits for the 2023-2024 election cycle. The FEC indexes certain contribution limits for inflation every two years. In recent cycles, limits have increased by $100 each cycle, but following high rates of inflation over the past two years, the FEC substantially increased several contribution limits this cycle.

Individuals may now give each federal candidate $3,300 per election, up from the previous limit of $2,900. The primary and general elections are considered separate elections, so an individual may now give a total of $6,600 per candidate, per cycle. Per-election limits are in effect for the two-year cycle beginning the day after the general election and ending the day of the next general election (November 9, 2022 to November 5, 2024).Continue Reading Federal Election Commission Announces Significant Increases to Contribution Limits Adjusted for Inflation for 2023-2024 Cycle

The Federal Election Commission last week approved a final rule establishing requirements for sponsorship disclaimers on political ads. The Commission’s internet disclaimer rule has been unchanged since 2006, at times leaving advertisers and platforms for political ads uncertain about how the rule applies to evolving technologies. The FEC’s review is ongoing, and the public is invited to comment on whether additional rules are necessary to regulate social media influencers, boosted ads, and other forms of digital advertising.

What’s New?

Technological Modernization. The rule approved this week incorporates proposed changes we first wrote about in 2018. To start with, the new rule makes clear that the current disclaimer requirements for ads placed for a fee on websites also apply to paid advertising through other digital platforms, such as social media, mobile apps, and streaming sites. This modernizes the rule to accommodate emerging technologies and is consistent with what has become common practice on major social media platforms and online advertising networks.Continue Reading FEC Adopts New Disclosure Rule for Digital Political Ads

A flurry of recent advisory opinions from the Department of Justice’s FARA unit raise new questions about how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) might apply to the nonprofit community. Adding to the uncertainty, these opinions arrive just as momentum is increasing for DOJ to adopt new regulations to clarify and update the pre-World War II law that has seen aggressive enforcement in the last decade.

FARA generally requires agents of foreign principals engaged in certain activities within the United States to influence domestic and foreign policy to register and publicly disclose the relationship and their activities to DOJ. In the last few years, enforcement has ramped up, with multiple indictments in the wake of investigations into foreign interference in the 2016 elections. As a result, organizations with international connections have called for greater guidance on the reach of what is a notoriously vague law. To this end, DOJ began releasing heavily redacted advisory opinions interpreting FARA and its regulations.

A common theme among opinions released in February 2022 is the scope of the so-called academic exemption, one of several exemptions to the law’s registration and reporting requirements. Under this exemption, an agent working on behalf of any kind of foreign principal need not register under FARA if the activity performed on behalf of the principal promotes bona fide religious, scholastic, academic, or scientific pursuits or the fine arts. Nonprofits, including universities and other educational organizations, religious groups, and other charitable organizations, have long relied on this exemption when engaging in activities that may cause them to be considered an “agent” of a foreign entity.Continue Reading New FARA Advisory Opinions Put Nonprofits on Notice

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) recently announced a $16,000 civil penalty against a political campaign, to settle allegations that the campaign had inappropriately used FEC contributor data in an algorithm used to aid its fundraising. The settlement is the latest in a series of decisions this year cracking down on the practice of using the FEC’s public contribution data to facilitate fundraising operations.

Contributor Data Disclosure

Federal campaign finance laws require all federal political committees to disclose the name, address, occupation, employer, and contribution amounts from donors who have given more than $200 per cycle. When the law was first written in the mid-1970s, there was no internet, so access to the records was very limited. Moreover, $200 then was worth nearly $1,000 in current dollars (so in fact it was a much larger contribution than it may first appear). Today, the FEC makes these disclosures public in a searchable online database, a tempting trove in an age when data has become integral to improving the efficiency of organizations’ public outreach.Continue Reading FEC Cracks Down on Use of Contributor Data

Federal and state regulators continue to modify their lobbying and campaign finance reporting and enforcement practices and requirements in response to the ongoing upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As states postpone primaries to prevent the spread of coronavirus, agencies have revised reporting deadlines for election-sensitive campaign finance reports. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced