The “blackout” dates for official communications in the 117th Congress are fast approaching. Please see the House Communications Standards Commission’s guidance below. Please also see DotGov’s quick and easy calendar to see when your state’s blackout period(s) commence. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the experts at DotGov here.
Blackout Rules – Mass Mailings & Mass Communications
Mass mailings are defined as unsolicited mailing of 500 or more pieces of substantially identical content – whether mailed singly or in bulk – over the course of a legislative year. A Mass communication is defined, consistent with the definition of a mass mailing, as any communication of substantially identical content to 500 or more individuals over the course of a legislative year, regardless of media.
Per Title 39 U.S.C. Section 3210 (a)(6)(A), no unsolicited mass communication or mailings, including mass e-mails, follow-ups on legislative issues, and any digital advertisement regardless of cost (excluding exceptions below), may be distributed within 60 days immediately before the date of any primary or general election or caucus for any federal, state, or local office in which the Member is a candidate. No moratorium exists if the Member’s name does not appear on a ballot.
Committee Members may not send unsolicited mass communications into congressional districts in within 60 days immediately before the date of any primary or general election for the U.S. House of Representatives.
During the blackout period, all running online advertisements other than those specifically stated below must be terminated. Member offices may not incur any costs related to the distribution of unsolicited mass communications or mailings during that time.
Examples of prohibited mass communications and mass mailings include:
- Automated telephone (“robo”) calls
- E-communications distributed to non-subscribers
- Advertisements (radio, TV, internet, newspaper, etc.) of town hall meetings or of the personal appearance of the Member and/or the Member’s employees at an official event
- Mass mailings, e.g., newsletters, meeting notices, newspaper inserts, surveys and questionnaires, etc.
- Posters, flyers, leaflets, handouts, etc.
- Video or audio communications for which a Member may incur expenses for production, distribution, and/or broadcast
Section 3210(a)(6)(E) provides four exceptions to the mass mail prohibition prior to elections:
- (i) direct response to inquiries or requests from the persons to whom the matter is mailed;
- (ii) communications to colleagues in Congress or to government officials (whether Federal, state, local, Tribal); and
- (iii) news releases to the communications media;
- (iv) mass communications related to officially sanctioned Competitions, Military Academy nominations, official House office employment listings (including listings for the Wounded Warrior Program and Gold Star Family Fellowship Program), and information in the event of a disaster or other threat to life safety. Unsolicited mass communications on these matters would still require an Advisory Opinion prior to distribution regardless of cost.
Additional exemptions to unsolicited mass communications which would not be physically mailed include:
- (v) mass communications to a subscribed list of recipients.
In addition to understanding the above-stated regulations, it is imperative that each Member and his/her staff be knowledgeable of their state election laws and how they may apply to pre-election mailings and communications. Do not rely on vendors to be aware of these restrictions and when and how they apply to the distribution of your official mailings and communications.
If you have any questions regarding the pre-election mailing and communication restrictions, please do not hesitate to contact the House Communications Standards Commission.