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

Bipartisan group of senators seeks to increase transparency of online political ads
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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 KlobucharDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts A Day in Photos: The Biden Inauguration Senators vet Buttigieg to run Transportation Department MORE (D-Minn.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief Social media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots MORE (D-Va.), and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February 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.

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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 KilmerThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Congress must reclaim its Article I powers in order to earn back public trust Hillicon Valley: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments MORE (D-Wash.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikLincoln Project hits Stefanik in new ad over support for Trump Wyoming county votes to censure Liz Cheney for Trump impeachment vote Stefanik knocks Albany newspaper over 'childless' characterization 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 McCainWhoopi Goldberg wears 'my vice president' shirt day after inauguration Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader 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.”