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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Campaign watchdog ramps up disclosures for yard signs and AI-generated ads

By Jerry Cornfield Washington State Standard

Candidates in this year’s Washington elections must report what they spend on media created using artificial intelligence and other digital tools and declare who is paying for their yard signs, under new rules unanimously adopted Thursday by the state Public Disclosure Commission.

The rules dealing with old and new campaigning tools result from recently-enacted laws intended to provide the public with more information on the source and use of money in Washington elections.

A 2023 statute targets the growing use of digital manipulation and AI-generated technology to falsely depict a person’s image, speech or conduct in campaign-related material. Under the law, a person can sue the sponsor of a political ad or mailer if it does not make clear with a disclaimer that it is fake.

Rule changes enacted by the PDC require candidates, committees, and sponsors of political advertising to disclose the names of and amounts paid to the vendors involved in creating, producing, and airing the ads, and information on the audience targeted.

The changes, which take effect in 30 days, apply to “any expenditure” using so-called synthetic media.

“In simple terms, we’re not proposing to prohibit anybody from doing deepfakes but simply…you’ve got to disclose it,” said Commissioner Douglass North.

Also Thursday, commissioners approved an emergency rule requiring the name and address of the sponsor to be printed on all political yard signs up to 4 feet by 8 feet in size. The information must appear in a font size at least 10% of the largest font used on the political placard.

This change applies to signs printed on or after June 6, which is when the 2024 law creating the mandate will take effect. Signs in the ground or purchased before June 6 are exempt.

The commission is encouraging those buying signs now to include the information to promote transparency and ensure the sign is compliant if it gets reused in a future election.

Commissioners expressed concern there will be an onslaught of sign-related complaints because there may be a sign with the information next to one without.

“I don’t really want you guys to have to go out every time somebody submits a claim that ‘I was just innocently driving down the road and I saw this yard sign that didn’t have this information on it’. Who is going to have to find out if the sign is compliant?” Commissioner Allen Hayward asked.

Sean Flynn, the commission’s general counsel, said this tension will be present this first year but should subside in future cycles. If a lot of cases come in, there could be ways to expedite their handling, he said.