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Texas may require social media influencers to disclose political payments

The Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) is moving forward with a rule to require social media influencers who post political statements to disclose if they were paid to do so.

Current campaign ethics law requires disclosures on paid political advertising, but TEC commissioners found a hole in it for posts made on social media by unrelated third parties who were paid to take a stance on a candidate or issue.

The proposed addition to Chapter 26.1 of the Administrative Code reads, “A disclosure statement is not required on … political advertising posted or re-posted on an Internet website, as long as the person posting or re-posting the political advertising … did not post or re-post the political advertising in return for consideration.”

With this change, there will be an active requirement that those paid to post political messages on social media disclose it, similar to that required already by the Federal Trade Commission for the commercial private sector. Violators of this disclosure requirement can be fined up to $4,000 by the TEC.

The rule was adopted unanimously by the TEC board on March 20 and a 30-day public comment period will begin, after which it will become effective after final approval.

First reported by Mark McCaig at the Texas Voice, TEC General Counsel James Tinsley said of the rule, “This proposed amendment would make clear that a political advertising disclosure statement is required when a person is paid to that political advertising,”

“The reason for this now is it’s not a hypothetical. There’s at least one business whose business model now is to do just that.”

That is a reference to Influenceable — a newer firm connected to former Donald Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale — that made payments last year to individuals with highly-followed accounts, including those out of state, to make posts that defended Attorney General Ken Paxton and criticized the Texas House that impeached him.

Current Revolt originally broke the news about Influencable’s $50 pitch to influencers in exchange for posts about the Paxton impeachment and other candidates or issues; the dollar amount varied from payee to payee.

On May 19 last year, Defend Texas Liberty PAC — the conservative group formerly run by former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland that rallied to Paxton’s defense during the impeachment saga — paid Influenceable $18,000 for “consulting services.”

The TEC didn’t specifically mention Influencable in the hearing, but the references were clearly about the Parscale-connected firm. It's also unlikely they're the only ones engaging in this stripe of paid advertising. 

Social media’s prominence in the political world is only rising, and thus strategies using it — as well as agencies looking to regulate it — have proliferated.

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