For State, Local Office Seekers, Web Ads Present Potential Pitfalls

An online twist in a hotly contested race for mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., could signal trouble for local politicians advertising on popular Web sites like Google (GOOG), Facebook and Twitter.

The Florida Elections Commission has decided a mayoral candidate’s ads on Google and Facebook appear to violate the state’s election law because they don’t include a disclaimer that indicates who bought them. Many other states, including Texas, Alaska, Connecticut and Ohio, also require similar disclaimers.

The candidate’s campaign, however, argues that the messages in question aren’t technically ads, but rather links to ads, and that it doesn’t pay for them unless a Web user clicks on them.

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