116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As Iowa’s midterm elections approach, voters’ smartphones are likely to light up with political text messages from various campaigns and groups.
Under current rules, those text messages can be anonymous. Anonymity opens the door for the dissemination of dubious claims and falsehoods to thousands of Iowans. It’s loophole in the rules that require “paid for by” attribution statements on a broad array of campaign communications.
We saw the potential damage that can be done by misleading messages in Kansas. Voters there, ahead of a vote on stripping abortion rights protections from the state constitution, were told “Voting YES on the amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”
In reality, the opposite was true. In the end, the anti-abortion amendment was defeated.
But, thankfully, Iowa is on the verge of making political texts more accountable. The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board is drafting an advisory opinion that would bring text messages under the umbrella of electioneering that requires an attribution statement. The agency will apply the same rationale it used in requiring email communications to provide “paid for by” information.
It’s the right call. Of course, attribution will not clean up all misleading messages. But it will, at least, provide Iowans information about who is paying for the messages. We’d also like to see outside groups messaging Iowans to register with the ethics board in a way that provides more transparency.
Florida has approved rules cracking down on anonymous political texts, leveling fines ranging from $200 to $250 for each text that fails to add attribution. A Florida congressman was targeted by barrage of anonymous text messages falsely reporting that he had dropped out of the race.
We understand that campaigns and groups feel the need to reach voters wherever they are as landlines disappear and TV ads are less effective reaching voters scattered across streaming services. Iowa voters may be annoyed by unwanted messages, but, at least, they should know who is sending them.
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