House Dems push FEC for tougher action on foreign election meddling

House Dems push FEC for tougher action on foreign election meddling
© Keren Carrion

House Democrats are pushing the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to take more aggressive action in curbing foreign influence in U.S. elections.

Eighteen members of Congress led by Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) urged the FEC in a letter on Thursday to treat political advertisements on social media platforms in the same way that it treats TV or radio ads.

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Sarbanes and company argued that with such measures in place, foreign manipulation of social media platforms during the 2016 U.S. election would not have happened. 

“There is reason to believe that if we had a more effective disclaimer regime for political internet advertisements during the 2016 election cycle, a portion of the illicit foreign campaign spending might have been prevented,” the lawmakers wrote.

In October, the FEC asked for the public to weigh in on its disclosure rules for online political advertisements. The agency said it would consider that input for future guidelines for digital advertisements.

The lawmakers praised the agency’s decision to pursue guidelines, but said that they also wanted “separate, broader rulemaking that addresses head-on the topic of illicit foreign activity in U.S. elections."

Sarbanes, along with Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time Overnight Defense: Navy won't reinstate fired captain | Dems probe use of federal officers in DC | Air Force appoints woman as top noncommissioned officer Dems request watchdog probe use of federal law enforcement in DC during Floyd protests MORE (D-N.M.), had previously lead a coalition of lawmakers in September in calling for the FEC to take action to prevent foreign governments from influencing the U.S. political process. The move followed revelations that Russian actors had purchased 3,000 political ads on Facebook during the election.

Lawmakers are also giving the issue legislative attention. Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response State election officials warn budget cuts could lead to November chaos Biden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street MORE (D-Minn.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats MORE (D-Va.) introduced the Honest Ads Act last month, which aims to hold digital platforms to the same political advertising standards as TV and radio stations.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said during the Senate Judiciary Hearing last week probing tech firms' action against Russian manipulation of their platforms, that he was taking steps to introduce his own legislation on the matter that would go even further than the Honest Ads Act, but did not offer specifics.