NY Ethics Panel Approves 90-Day Pre-Election Blackout in Public Service Announcements

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On Tuesday, New York's Joint Commission on Public Ethics Regulations approved that officials and legislators across the state who are running for office in the current year, may not make appearances on public service announcements for the 90 days preceding their election.

The regulations were proposed last year, but the ethics board adopted them unanimously this week in an attempt to apply the regulations to this year's primaries and November elections. All elected public officials for the state ranging from the governor to the attorney general will have to follow the pre-election blackout in PSAs.

The new regulations define: A Public Service Announcement is a communication that meets all of the following criteria: (1) The communication (i) is designed to promote programs, activities, or services of nonprofit organizations or federal, state or local governments; or (ii) imparts information generally regarded as serving the public interest. The entire definition is available here.

In establishing the need for the regulations, the document proposing the regulations observe, "The purpose of these regulations is to: (a) provide guidance as to what constitutes, for the purposes of the Public Officers Law, a public service announcement; (b) clarify that an appearance in a public service announcement does not ordinarily constitute a "gift" ...; and (c) place limitations on when certain individuals ... who are also Candidates may appear in public service announcements."

The move is aimed at reducing the campaign advantage that incumbents have and also applies to PSAs made by nonprofit groups, in addition to being applicable to PSAs made by the government. Public Service Announcements usually involve social issues like energy conservation, domestic violence, obesity, drugs and any other that affects the local populace.

The new regulations also define that, for the purpose of PSAs, that "Publish or Publishing shall mean publication, dissemination, broadcast, or on-line posting through any print or electronic media, including television, radio and the Internet."

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