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FEC Rules US Citizens Living Abroad Can Purchase Online Political Ads

January 19, 2021 by Dan McCue
This March 4, 2020, image shows a collection of Instagram posts, which Facebook, the owner of Instagram, yanked off the site in October after concluding that they originated from Russia and had links to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian operation that targeted U.S. audiences in 2016.

WASHINGTON – The Federal Elections Commission has ruled that U.S. citizens living abroad can purchase political advertisements pertaining to elections in the United States.

The agency handed down the ruling in the case of Jean-Marc Bertrand, who seeks to encourage voters to support third party presidential candidates via Facebook ads.

Facebook requires those who purchase ads to provide a U.S. address and to make payments from a U.S. bank account. Since Bertrand had neither, he was precluded from purchasing the advertising he wanted to buy during the 2020 election cycle.

But the FEC said Tuesday that neither the Federal Elections Campaign Act nor Commission regulations require Bertrand to provide proof of holding a U.S. bank account or having a U.S. residential address to a social media platform as a prerequisite to his purchasing political advertisements on such platforms.

“As a general matter, the Commission has encouraged commercial entities to adopt screening procedures to avoid contributions or expenditures from foreign nationals and other prohibited sources,” the FEC said. “The Commission has not had occasion to review the particular screening procedures adopted by Facebook and expresses no views on those procedures.”

The agency went on to say that its advisory opinion does not weigh in on Bertrand’s citizenship — a fact “assumed by the Commission” it said – nor did it “relieve any entity of its obligation to comply with the Act and Commission regulations.

It also said it declined Bertrand’s request to determine whether Facebook should impose identical requirements on residents and non-resident U.S. citizens purchasing advertising content, saying that was a general question of interpretation beyond the scope of an advisory opinion request.

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