Oct. 19, 2017

Legislation Calls for Needed Transparency of Campaign Ads on Internet; Secret Foreign Election Meddling Would Be Curtailed

Statement of Craig Holman, Government Affairs Lobbyist, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: Following revelations that Russian sources may have bought some 3,000 ads on Facebook intended to influence the 2016 elections – which would be an explicit violation of federal law – U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) today are expected to introduce bipartisan legislation to require disclosure of paid political advertising on the Internet.

Though the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has recently begun accepting comments on whether it should revisit the issue of Internet advertising, the agency has so far failed to address the problem of foreign meddling in U.S. elections through the use of undisclosed paid political advertising on social media. The bipartisan legislation to be introduced today picks up where the FEC has fallen short. U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have sponsored the “Honest Ads Act.”

The measure gets to the core of the problem of secret political advertising and the sources of fake news on the Internet. The Honest Ads Act imposes no restrictions or limitations on public communications on the Internet. It merely requires that sources of funding behind paid political ads be disclosed to the public. It also requires large online platforms, such as Facebook and Google, to make reasonable efforts to ensure that campaign ads on their web pages are not purchased by foreign nationals and to provide public records of the funding sources of such ads.

This is bold and sorely needed disclosure legislation by a powerful Senate team capable of seeing it through.