Senate Democrats press FEC to expand disclosure requirements to online political advertising

A group of 15 top Democratic senators are pushing the Federal Election Commission to expand disclosure requirements on political ads to include commercials distributed online.

After months of investigations on Capitol Hill, politicians on both sides of the aisle are focusing their questioning on the role that online advertising distributed by Facebook, Twitter and Google played in Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

In a letter today sent to the FEC on the last day of a month-long public comment period regarding the issue, Senate Democrats argued that FEC exemptions of online political advertising from including disclaimers about the organizations responsible for the ads played a role in the Russian disinformation efforts.

The senators wrote:

Over the past year, our country has come to realize the ease with which foreign actors can interfere in our elections, undermining the integrity of – and reducing public confidence in – the electoral process. As part of a wide-ranging interference campaign during the 2016 election, Russian operatives used advertisements on social media platforms to sow division and discord, distorting public discourse and coarsening our political debate. The actions undertaken by Russia should not be considered an anomaly; they will be the norm in future elections if we do not take immediate action to improve the transparency and security of our election process.

The 15 Democratic senators included: Mark Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA),  Al Franken (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

They called on the FEC to take immediate action to ensure that future online advertising would require disclaimers on the organizations or individuals that purchased the commercials.

“The lack of transparency of digital ads is a threat to our national security,” the senators wrote. “Without change, the misuse of online advertisements during the 2016 election will serve as a template for other foreign powers who wish to influence our elections. Failure to act threatens the very foundation of our democracy.”

Pressure to change the ways online ads are treated is also coming in the form of Senate legislation. The longtime Arizona Republican Senator John McCain recently joined Senators Warner and Klobuchar in sponsoring legislation called The Honest Ads Act to ensure that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold by television, radio and satellite stations.