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Interpretative Opinion 02-11: Use of Website for Campaigns

August 7, 2002

The Honorable Kathleen Patterson
Councilmember – Ward 3
Council of the District of Columbia
3740 Military Road, NW
Washington, DC 20015

Re: Linking Campaign and DC Council Websites

Dear Councilmember Patterson:

This responds to your request for an expedited opinion concerning the propriety of linking a campaign website to a District of Columbia Council website. Specifically, you ask whether the use of a “hot link” on your campaign website to your Council website would violate existing campaign finance laws or regulations.

As you are aware, the District of Columbia Campaign Finance Reform and Conflict of Interest Act was drafted in the early 1970’s, and did not contemplate the evolution of the Internet as the information resource of choice of the 21st century. Although we anticipate a dramatic increase in the use of the Internet to conduct campaign activity in the District of Columbia, we are not aware that District candidates are extensively using this medium. Further, no recent laws have been enacted, nor rules promulgated in the District, to regulate this new form of communication [to] with the electorate.

The issue presented here is one of first impression for the Office of Campaign Finance. Consequently, we have sought guidance from recently proposed regulations of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) concerning campaign activity on the Internet. Notwithstanding, no relevant direction was obtained.

While the establishment of a campaign website for the purpose of advocating the election of a clearly identified candidate is permissible, the linking or connecting of same to a government-sponsored website may be problematic. In our view, one could reasonably construe this “link” as the government’s endorsement of a candidate. The World Wide Web (www) is a tool that allows users to retrieve and display related data via “point and click” transfers to selected files across the Internet. As such, a hyperlink to your website will lead users to your Council website to further amplify your accomplishments on the DC Council.

Therefore, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance, that you should avoid the use of a “hot link” at this juncture, and instead provide a footnote on the campaign website that refers users to your DC Council website address.