Bipartisan group of senators seeks to increase transparency of online political ads

Bipartisan group of senators seeks to increase transparency of online political ads
© Getty Images

A bipartisan group of three senators reintroduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at increasing the transparency of election advertisements on social media platforms, with the goal of preventing foreign actors from influencing U.S. elections.

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Moore defends Sanders's reputation: 'We don't want the fake, and the phony and the fraudulent' MORE (D-Minn.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill MORE (D-Va.), and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE (R-S.C.) introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would require online platforms to make “all reasonable efforts” to ensure that foreign entities are not buying political ads.

ADVERTISEMENT

It would also require all digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all election-related communication purchased by an entity or group that spends over $500 on their platform.

The public file would need to include the contact information of the purchaser, a description of the targeted audience, the rates charged and the dates and times of publication of the ads.

The bill would also expand the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s definition of “electioneering communication” to include paid internet and digital advertisements.

Companion legislation in the House is being sponsored by Reps. Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerHouse extends Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress for another year Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions MORE (D-Wash.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikJeffries, Nadler showcase different NY styles in Trump trial The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team MORE (R-N.Y.), along with 26 other Democratic and Republican sponsors. 

According to the Senate co-sponsors, the Honest Ads Act is supported by Twitter and Facebook, and by groups including the Campaign Legal Center, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Sunlight Foundation. 

“Foreign adversaries interfered in the 2016 election and are continuing to use information warfare to try to influence our government and divide Americans,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “We must act now to protect our democracy and prevent this kind of interference from ever happening again. The goal of the Honest Ads Act is simple: to ensure that voters know who is paying to influence our political system.”

Warner said that the bill was necessary as “we grow increasingly dependent on a handful of very large platforms,” and as Russia and other foreign adversaries seek to interfere in U.S. elections. 

“Right now, our country needs strong defenses that help ward off shady online attacks by demanding increased transparency, which is why I’m proud to introduce the Honest Ads Act,” Warner said in a statement.

“By requiring large digital platforms to meet the same disclosure standards as broadcast, cable, and satellite ads, this legislation can help prevent foreign actors from manipulating the American public and interfering in our free and fair elections through the use of inauthentic and divisive paid ads,” he added. 

The bill was sponsored by the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainConservative activist wins contest to represent New Hampshire at Republican National Convention Schiff shows clip of McCain in Trump impeachment trial Martha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter MORE (R-Ariz.) during the last Congress.

Graham said in a statement that “hardening our electoral infrastructure will require a comprehensive approach and it can’t be done with a single piece of legislation,” adding that “I am cosponsoring this legislation because it’s clear we have to start somewhere.” 

“Online platforms have made some progress but there is more to be done. Foreign interference in U.S. elections – whether Russia in the 2016 presidential election or another rogue actor in the future – poses a direct threat to our democracy,” Graham said. “I intend to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bolster our defenses and defend the integrity of our electoral system.” 

Klobuchar “commended” Graham for “taking up the mantle of bipartisanship” from McCain in sponsoring the Honest Ads Act, noting that “protecting our elections isn’t about politics—it’s about national security and the future of our democracy.”