WASHINGTON -- In his latest online video ad, Donald Trump uses an out-of-context quote from Jeb Bush to simultaneously attack his rival GOP presidential candidate and stoke racial anxieties about undocumented immigration. Like all of Trump's other ads posted to Instagram, the video does not include any disclaimer stating that it was paid for by the Trump campaign.
Why didn't Trump attach that otherwise ubiquitous disclaimer? The reason is that the Federal Election Commission doesn't require the disclaimer on online ads that a candidate's campaign did not pay to place or promote.
The FEC explains on its website that it generally requires public communications paid for by the campaigns of candidates for federal office to include a disclaimer noting just that. The definition of such political advertising, however, "does not include Internet ads, except for communications placed for a fee on another person's web site."
In other words, candidates are freed from the disclaimer rule on social media sites like Instagram.
There are also exemptions for small items, like bumper stickers and buttons, and impractical items, like skywriting and water towers. But Trump's ads garner much more attention, since almost anything he does, says or posts these days receives extended free play on TV and online news sites.
Some supporters of campaign finance regulation think the Trump ads should not be exempt.
"It would seem to me a disclaimer should be applied," said Larry Noble, counsel for the Campaign Legal Center and former general counsel for the FEC.
Getting the FEC to make such a ruling would be difficult, however. Last year, the commission was asked by the Democratic firm Revolution Messaging whether political ads aimed at mobile phones and tablets could be exempt from the disclaimer requirement. The FEC deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, with Republican commissioners in support of the exemption and Democratic commissioners opposed.