Many REALTOR® associations are embracing social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube, and integrating these tools into their day-to-day activities. RPAC-related information on social media and websites is subject to both federal and state election laws, and these laws may require that the association to regulate access to certain portions of the site. The Q&A below outlines some of the issues raised by association’s use of social media for RPAC activities, and some suggestions on how the association or its PAC may address these issues.
Can my association use social media sites for RPAC?
Subject to the restrictions noted below, yes. The association may make certain RPAC information available to the public, such as posting meeting times and basic information about RPAC. However, because RPAC contributions may only be solicited from the so-called “solicitable class,” which essentially consists of members and their families, anything which could be considered a “solicitation” for an RPAC contribution will need member-access only password protection.
What RPAC information can be placed on the association public social media and webpages?
- General information about RPAC, such as contact information and staff.
- General information about RPAC activities, such as a calendar of RPAC events.
- RPAC financial information, such as how much had been contributed or the number of contributors to RPAC in a given period.
- Information about contributions RPAC has made to candidates.
- A description of the restrictions under which RPAC operates, such as that only members of the solicitable class may contribute to the RPAC or who determines which candidates will receive RPAC support.
- Copies of the campaign finance reports filed with regulators like the Federal Election Commission or its state counterpart, setting forth the contributions received or disbursements made by RPAC.
- Members may post factual information about themselves for recognition they have received for their investments such as being a Major Investor, but cannot write posts encouraging others to make similar RPAC contributions.
Associations must carefully monitor the content of their site if it includes RPAC information that goes beyond simply providing factual information and also constitutes a solicitation for RPAC contributions. For example, the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) has determined that a PAC communication constituted a solicitation when the chairman of the PAC commended the enthusiasm of employees who participated in the PAC by making contributions because the communication indicated their awareness of the connection between their welfare and government policies toward the business. Such messages that encourage contributions to RPAC may only be placed behind a member-access only password-protected portion of the site. Such a message would include, for example, posting the names of contributors and the amounts contributed, particularly if those having made such contributions are favorably commended.
What information needs to be behind member-access only password protection?
All communications that constitute a “solicitation” need to be password protected. This would be true for private social media sites where solicitations are taking place, and those private sites will need to be limited to those within the restricted class.
What constitutes a solicitation?
A communication will constitute a solicitation if it “encourages… support [of] the PAC’s activities (by making a contribution) [or] facilitates the making of contributions.” Facilitation of the making of contributions would include providing information on how individuals may contribute to the PAC, such as by including in the communication an address to which a contribution may be sent.
Information about a PAC fundraising event does not constitute a solicitation and can be publicly available if it consists of nothing more than details about when or where the event will be held. However, information that expressly encourages attendance and/or RPAC contributions at such an event, or information about where to send an RPAC contribution, constitutes a solicitation.
Who can access the password-protected content?
The password-protected content may only be accessed by RPAC’s solicitable class. According to federal election law, that includes individual members—i.e., non-corporate members of NAR—and their families. The term “members” means all individuals who currently satisfy the requirements for membership in any one of the local, state, and/or the national associations and regularly pay dues.
Executive, administrative and management personnel of the local, state and/or national associations, and their families, are also included in the solicitable class.
Can an association promote RPAC fundraising events on its public pages?
An association could list RPAC fundraising events on its public pages and calendars, but it will need to be careful that the name itself does not constitute a solicitation nor can there be specific information about the event beyond the date and time of the event. For example, the association could list “RPAC Casino Night” on its public website calendar with a link to a password protected area of the site that would contain information about the event. However, an event named “Give to RPAC” or “RPAC Needs Your Contribution” could not be publicly displayed, since those names would constitute solicitations.
What else should associations do when using websites and social media for RPAC?
The association must, as noted, employ a member-access only password-protection feature for areas of their site that may include an RPAC solicitation. The site administrator should also implement a process that terminates an individual’s ability to access the protected portion of the site when association membership terminates.
The association must also decide whether to allow others to post messages to their public social media accounts, and if so, must insure that messages of others do not contain solicitations for RPAC contributions, which may only appear on a password protected page. If an association allows such postings, it may also want to include a disclaimer on the public page reminding members that any RPAC-related messages may only contain general information, and may not solicit RPAC contributions or provide information about making or encouraging contributions to the PAC.
Questions? Contact Liz Demorest at 202-383-1061.