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 HeinrichOvernight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' 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 Jean KlobucharJuan Williams: Warren on the rise Progressive group launches campaign to identify voters who switch to Warren 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown MORE (D-Minn.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBipartisan senators to introduce bill forcing online platforms to disclose value of user data GOP senators divided over approach to election security Hillicon Valley: House lawmakers reach deal on robocall bill | Laid-off journalists launch ads targeting tech giants | Apple seeks tariff exemptions | Facebook's Libra invites scrutiny 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.