Gov't weighs political phone ads

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They are on TV, radio, the Internet and even in some cases in the sky. Now the Federal Election Commission is to decide Aug. 22 whether political ads can also be on cellphone screens.

Target Wireless, Fort Lee, N.J., has asked the commission to waive, for cellphones, its normal requirements that political ads say who is paying for ads. Target Wireless sells some of the ads that permit content providers to offer short 160-character screens of sports, stocks, news and headlines on cellphones.

The tiny amount of screen space available and the fact that consumers would have to pay extra to get all the disclosures justifies treating cellphone ads more like sky writing and bumper stickers than TV or the Internet, the company argues. And consumers have to opt in to get the services.

Craig Krueger, president of Target Wireless, said the petition stems from a 2000 request from one of the presidential campaigns though he declined to identify which one.

When the company looked at the request, it found that the current disclosure requirements for political ads by the FEC effectively precluded political ads. The message "Paid for by the Republican National Committee" would take 45 of the 160 characters.

"There is not enough space to permit a meaningful campaign disclosure," he said, noting that in similar situations the FEC has granted waivers.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers are backing the request.

open channel

Alex Vogel, general counsel to the GOP campaign committee, said in a letter that the ads would open a channel for political candidates "to effectively reach hard-to-reach mobile voters." A committee spokesman said there has been no decision to buy ads.

ANA expresses worry that any requirement that effectively blocks political advertisers could make it more difficult for private advertisers. It also raises First Amendment issues.

Diana Hartstein, a lawyer for Target Marketing, said she is unaware of any opposition and is hopeful that ads can be sold for the fall.

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