Most businesses are careful not to post confidential proprietary information on the public face of their website. But is there any reason to avoid posting video clips of speeches by public figures at an annual conference that contain no proprietary information? It turns out there is, if the public figures are candidates for federal office.
A recent Matter Under Review considered by the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) illustrates the importance of ensuring that political content posted to an organization’s website is restricted to the appropriate audience.
A complaint filed with the FEC alleged that the Ohio State Medical Association made impermissible in-kind corporate contributions by posting to an external website videos of campaign-related speeches by Senator Sherrod Brown and Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel to the Association’s restricted class during an annual meeting.
Corporations and membership organizations like the Association are prohibited from making expenditures from treasury funds in connection with federal candidates’ campaigns. In this instance, the FEC exercised its prosecutorial discretion to dismiss the case against the Association, noting that the public posting was inadvertent, that the links were only accessible for ten days, that the Association removed them as soon as they were notified the links were publicly accessible, and, interestingly, that the video was “accessed only nineteen times while publicly available.”
Nonetheless, the FEC stated that the Association had committed an apparent violation of the prohibition on corporate contributions or expenditures to federal candidates in violation of federal election laws.
The lesson? It is not enough for an organization’s compliance officers to monitor activities leading up to and during a political event held by an organization or separate segregated fund. Communications staff must be provided training and media disseminated following the event must be carefully reviewed. And if a campaign video is mistakenly posted to your external website, hope that it is sufficiently uninteresting that your linked video does not go viral.