Florida modernizes campaign laws to reflect new technology

The Florida laws governing political advertising were first written in 1951. Back then phones looked like this and the Internet hadn’t even been invented.

Last week Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a bill into law that helps bring Florida election law into the Internet age. The bill includes a provision, authored by Representative Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando) and Senator Victor Crist (R-Tampa), that will make it possible for candidates to make full use of online advertising, social networking, and text messages in campaigns.

The use of those tools to reach potential voters has been in question ever since a complaint was filed last year against a St. Petersburg mayoral candidate who had placed advertisements on Google that did not contain the disclaimer required under the prior Florida law. The problem was that the disclaimers just didn’t fit on short Internet search ads.

The new law strikes a good balance, respecting both the medium and need for transparency. As long as the message is no longer than 200 characters and links to a website that clearly discloses who is running the ad or sending the message, the actual message does not need to contain a disclaimer. The new law also provides safe harbors on disclaimer requirements for candidates using text messaging, social networking sites, downloadable apps, blogs and message board postings.

It’s a good common sense approach to lawmaking and puts Florida ahead of the pack when it comes to modernizing laws that were written when a tweet was just a sound a bird made.