Public Service Announcements for Candidates for Elected Office

This blog article serves as a reminder that last year the legislature enacted RCW 42.17A.575, which provides that no municipal officer may speak or appear in a public service announcement that is broadcast, shown, or distributed in any form whatsoever during the period beginning January 1st and continuing through the general election if that official or officer is a candidate. 

A public service announcement means a communication that meets all of the following criteria.  The communication is:

(a) Designed to benefit or promote the community’s health, safety or welfare or nonprofit community events;

(b) Not selling a product or service;

(c) Sponsored by an organization with a history of routinely providing the community such outreach public service messages in the service area of the organization;

(d) Of primary interest to the general public and is not targeted to reach only voters or voters in a specific jurisdiction;

(e) Not coordinated with or controlled or paid for by a candidate’s authorized committee or political committee;

(f) Subject to the policies for public service announcements of the entity broadcasting, transmitting, mailing, erecting, distributing or otherwise publishing the communication including policies regarding length, timing, and manner of distribution; and

(g) One for which the arrangements to include a reference or depiction of the candidate or candidates in the communication were made at least six months before the candidate became a candidate.

Examples of public service announcements include but are not limited to communications regarding nonprofit community events, outreach or awareness activities such as: Breast cancer screening, heart disease, domestic violence, organ donation, emergency or other disaster relief for organizations such as the Red Cross, programs designed to encourage reading by school children, childhood safety, fund drives for charitable programs such as United Way, and similar matters. 

This law applies to all “municipal officers,” which is otherwise defined in state law as “all elected and appointed officers of a municipality, together with all deputies and assistants of such an officer, and all persons exercising or undertaking to exercise any of the powers or functions of a municipal officer.” RCW 42.23.020(2).

For the Public Disclosure Commission’s Interpretation of this statute, please click here.

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