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The Basics

Federal campaign finance law exempts many Internet-based political activities under an “uncompensated Internet activity” exemption from reporting requirements.  This exemption covers activities including, but not limited to, “sending or forwarding electronic messages; providing a hyperlink or other direct access to another person's Web site; blogging; creating, maintaining, or hosting a Web site; paying a nominal fee for the use of another person's Web site; and any other form of communication distributed over the Internet."  Most political activity that artists engage in online will likely be covered by this exception.

One instance when an artist might need to examine campaign finance law more closely is when he or she has created art that is used in a political advertisement.  Essentially, the key question is whether the advertisement advocates for an issue or promotes the election or defeat of a specific candidate.  The first part of an inquiry by the Federal Election Commission is to see whether the advertisement clearly identifies a candidate.  According to the FEC, a “clearly identified candidate” is one whose “name, nickname, photograph, or drawing appears, or whose identity is apparent through unambiguous reference, such as ‘your Congressman,’ or through an unambiguous reference to his or her status as a candidate, such as ‘the Democratic presidential nominee’ or ‘Republican candidate for Senate in this state.’”

The second question, and the one that’s most important to an artist, is whether the art is intended for “public communication,” a term that has a special meaning in the Internet context.  Generally, a public communication is the broadcast of a message with the intent to reach a large audience.  Art (and its associated costs) that is created in support of such a communication must be reported as a campaign contribution to the FEC.  Fortunately, art posted only on the Internet is not considered a public communication unless it is placed on another person’s website for a fee – that is, if the artist pays another website to post his art as an advertisement.  Artists who create art about a political campaign and post it on their own website or blog, or on a free art- or photo-sharing website, should generally find that their art falls under the “uncompensated Internet activity” exemption.