FEC Advisory Opinion: U.S. Citizens Living Abroad May Purchase Political Advertising - State and Federal Communications

January 19, 2021  •  

FEC Advisory Opinion: U.S. Citizens Living Abroad May Purchase Political Advertising

FEC; Photo: Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call

In one of its first decisions of 2021, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) released an Advisory Opinion agreed upon unanimously. Advisory Opinion 2020-02 does not break new ground, but affirms that citizens of the United States living abroad may purchase online political advertisements in the U.S.

The FEC stated campaign finance regulations do not distinguish between citizens living in the U.S. and those residing abroad. They affirmed U.S. citizens living abroad may make expenditures, independent expenditures, and disbursements in connection with elections in the United States.

The opinion arises from a query of a U.S. citizen living in Canada wanting to purchase a political advertisement on Facebook. According to the Advisory Opinion, Facebook requires those purchasing political advertisements provide a U.S. address and to make payments from a U.S. bank account in U.S. dollars, which would preclude the requestor from purchasing the advertising.

While not ruling on Facebook’s preconditions for the purchase of an advertisement, the FEC stated the federal campaign finance law does not require a purchaser to provide Facebook or any other media platform proof of a U.S. bank account or a U.S. residential address. The federal regulations also do not require payment be made from financial instruments drawn on a U.S. bank.

The full six seats of the FEC have only been occupied since December 9, when the U.S. Senate confirmed three new commissioners. This allowed the FEC, where only three of the agency’s six seats were filled since July 4, to be able to conduct official business. The FEC requires at least four commissioners to agree on any official action.

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