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AO 2020-02: U.S. citizens living abroad may purchase online political advertisements – FEC.gov

As a U.S. citizen living abroad, Jean-Marc Bertrand (“the requestor”) may purchase online political advertisements in connection with elections in the United States. Neither the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) nor Commission regulations require him to provide proof of a U.S. bank account, financial instruments drawn on a U.S. Bank, or a U.S. residential address to an online media platform as a prerequisite to the purchase of political advertisements on such platforms.

Background and Questions

Bertrand seeks to encourage voters to vote for third party presidential candidates by purchasing political advertisements on Facebook. Facebook requires those who purchase ads to provide a U.S. address and to make payments from a U.S. bank account in U.S. dollars, which precludes the requestor from purchasing advertising.

The requestor asks whether the Act and Commission regulations permit him to make purchases for political advertisements despite his residency, and whether Facebook’s prerequisites are required under the Act. He further asks if the Act or Commission regulations require him to provide a U.S. address to media platforms as a prerequisite to purchasing political advertisements, whether the Advisory Opinion can serve as legal proof that he is a citizen, and whether it would absolve Facebook of further requirements that he prove he is a citizen. Finally, he asks if it should be compulsory for Facebook or other media platforms to impose the same qualifications on resident and non-resident U.S. citizens for advertising purchases.

Analysis and Conclusions

The Act and Commission regulations do not distinguish between citizens living in the U.S. and those residing abroad, meaning that the requestor, as a U.S. citizen, may make expenditures, independent expenditures and disbursements in connection with elections in the United States. The federal campaign finance law also does not require the requestor to provide Facebook or any other media platform with proof of a U.S. bank account, financial instruments drawn on a U.S. bank, or a U.S. residential address. 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 Commission has not had occasion to review the particular screening procedures adopted by Facebook and expresses no views on those procedures.

Finally, the advisory opinion does not serve as evidence that Mr. Bertrand is a citizen (this fact was assumed by the Commission), nor can it relieve any entity of its obligation to comply with the Act and Commission regulations. The Commission did not address Mr. Bertrand’s question as to whether Facebook should impose identical requirements on resident and non-resident U.S. citizens for purchasing advertising content, as it is a general question of interpretation and does not qualify as an advisory opinion request.

Date Issued: January 14, 2021; Length: 5 pages

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