Maryland Citizens Have a Right to Know Who is Trying to Influence Their Votes Through Digital Political Ads

person using tablet with digital marketing icons

Campaign Legal Center is defending the First Amendment rights of Maryland voters to have direct and easy access to information about who is seeking to influence their decisions at the ballot box.

In April 2018, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to address serious gaps in the state’s campaign finance disclosure regime. The new law expanded Maryland’s existing rules to require disclosure of information about paid digital political advertisements by the platforms that distribute them.

CLC supported the enactment of Maryland’s digital disclosure law because it closes loopholes that had allowed online political advertising to go undisclosed despite the dramatic migration of political advertising to online platforms. Maryland’s law has been hailed as a “national model,” and its disclosure requirements help the public make informed electoral choices while also making it harder for foreign and domestic actors to secretly influence American elections and hide other unlawful activities.

CLC, along with Common Cause Maryland, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the district court and have filed again in the Fourth Circuit. The brief explains why the district court’s anti-transparency decision conflicts with multiple Supreme Court decisions and an overwhelming majority of federal circuit court rulings that recognize the broad latitude states have to enact disclosure laws protecting citizens’ rights to make informed electoral choices.

Despite the clear authority of states and the federal government to require transparency for digital political ads, campaign finance laws have largely failed to keep up with the rapid shift of political advertising to online platforms. As CLC’s brief argues, the district court’s decision to exempt certain online platforms from Maryland’s digital disclosure requirements marks a rare departure from federal disclosure jurisprudence and undermines the First Amendment rights of citizens to know who is trying to influence their votes.

Erin is CLC's Senior Director, Campaign Finance.