County GOP takes over Trump billboard in Wilmington that appeared to violate federal law

County GOP to take over Trump billboard in Wilmington that appears to violate federal law
Updated: Sep. 30, 2020 at 4:30 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A political billboard in Wilmington that reads “Wilmington for Trump 2020” was apparently in violation of federal campaign laws. The billboard has since been updated to come into compliance with federal regulations.

The billboard in question is visible from Third Street, and is located almost adjacent to the newly installed ‘Black Lives Do Matter, End Racism Now’ art installation.

As of Wednesday morning, it was missing one important piece of information – a disclaimer telling residents who paid for the sign.

While the billboard in question simply has three words and numbers on it, the Federal Election Commission has strict rules in place for communications for political candidates.

Federal law requires campaign communications such as billboards, mailers, television and radio ads provide a disclaimer stating who paid for the advertising, and whether or not the messaging is endorsed by a candidate.

The sign in question is now in full compliance with federal regulations after the New Hanover...
The sign in question is now in full compliance with federal regulations after the New Hanover County GOP took over payments for it.(Contributed)

A disclaimer at the bottom of the sign initially only read ‘Paid for by,’ however the name was painted over and was not legible.

This was in apparent violation of the FEC rules that reads, “Disclaimers must be ‘clear and conspicuous’ regardless of the medium in which the communication is transmitted. A disclaimer is not clear and conspicuous if it is difficult to read or hear, or if its placement is easily overlooked.”

On Wednesday, Will Knecht, the chairman of the New Hanover County GOP, said the billboard was not paid for by his organization but by a private individual. Knecht later reached out to WECT and said the county GOP will take over payments on the billboard beginning Wednesday night. The owner of the billboard confirmed the billboard was updated to reflect this.

Knecht declined to provide the name of the individual who originally paid for the billboard.

The rules are clear, even when paid for by an individual, a disclaimer must be provided.

“Communications paid for by an individual, a group, a political committee, a corporation, or a labor organization, but not authorized by a candidate or a candidate’s campaign, must contain a disclaimer notice identifying who paid for the communication and indicating whether any candidate or candidate’s committee authorized the communication. A disclaimer notice must contain the full name of the individual, group, political committee, corporation, or labor organization that paid for the communication, along with any abbreviated name it uses to identify itself,” according to the FEC.

When asked about the possible violation, a spokeswoman for the FEC said she could not confirm any violation had taken place over the phone, however, she did confirm that if there was a violation it would be up to the FEC to provide a remedy.

“Anyone may file a complaint with the Commission if s/he believes that a violation of federal campaign finance law has occurred,” Press Officer for the FEC Judith Ingram said.

When asked why the information on the sign was painted over, the owner of the billboard said the information had been covered up because the individuals who paid for the sign were worried about people vandalizing their home or boycotting them.

WECT has attempted to contact the individuals responsible for the billboard but at this time have not been able to identify them, this article will be updated if/when they provide a comment.

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