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Close the ‘Dark Money’ Gateway to Foreign Meddling in U.S. Elections

May 25, 2018

Close the ‘Dark Money’ Gateway to Foreign Meddling in U.S. Elections

FEC Must Require Disclaimers on All Internet Political Ads

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Election Commission (FEC) should require disclaimers on all internet campaign ads that clearly and conspicuously identify the sponsors of the ads, according to comments submitted today by Public Citizen, Free Speech For People and thousands of citizens across the nation.

The FEC should close its “dark money” loophole for online political ads and promulgate new internet disclosure rules that encompass at least four key components. These include:

  • Capturing all internet campaign ads under the disclaimer requirement, regardless of size or form.

  • Mandating that even brief online campaign ads include at the very least an adapted disclaimer that specifies, “Paid for by …” in letters of sufficient size to be clearly readable by the recipient, and then providing an indicator to the full disclaimer through either an active hyperlink to another page, hover-over mechanism, pop-up screen or other technological mechanism that offers full disclosure information.

  • Putting the disclaimer rules in place for the 2018 general elections.

  • Requiring major social media platforms to provide a public library of paid internet political communications so that further Russian meddling in our elections may be curtailed.

“Campaign advertising on the internet has grown eightfold between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, and is expected to account for nearly a quarter of all campaign ads in the upcoming elections,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “If the FEC fails to expand its disclosure requirement for online campaign ads, voters aren’t going to know who is behind all this advertising.”

Despite statutory requirements for disclaimers and disclosure of the funding source behind campaign ads, regulations promulgated by the FEC more than a decade ago largely have exempted internet communications from the disclosure and disclaimer requirements of federal law.

“The ‘dark money’ loophole for online political advertising is the gateway for foreign meddling in our elections that has been extensively exploited by Russian sources,” said Ron Fein, legal director for Free Speech For People. “Without adequate disclosure for internet ads, the FEC is allowing social media to become the playground for secret political operatives, including foreign governments.”

More than 100,000 citizens from all across the nation have signed on to comments calling for strong, unambiguous action by the FEC. These comments will be submitted to the FEC as part of the rulemaking process calling for the agency to strengthen internet disclaimer rules.

“Americans are angry about being confused and sometimes duped by anonymous and misleading political ads on the internet,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, campaign co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “Americans across all political perspectives are calling upon the FEC to require full disclosure of funding sources behind internet campaign ads.”

The comments from Public Citizen and Free Speech For People are available here and here.