WASHINGTON— U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) today called on Twitter and Alphabet, Inc., the parent company of Google, to implement stronger transparency and accountability standards for online political advertisements. Specifically, the Senators called on the companies to voluntarily implement the provisions in the Honest Ads Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Klobuchar, Warner and John McCain (R-AZ) that would require online political advertisements to abide by the same disclosure rules as television and radio ads.
Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. However, Americans had no way of knowing who was behind the ads, because, unlike radio and television ads, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has exempted large swathes of online ads from general requirements to include disclaimers about who is responsible for the content, and platforms are not required to make public information about political ad purchases as cable, satellite, and broadcast providers must.
“This lack of transparency has dangerous implications for our democracy. As we saw in the 2016 presidential election, foreign actors can seek to influence the electorate without voters’ knowledge through online political advertising,” wrote Sens. Warner and Klobuchar in a pair of letters today to Alphabet CEO Larry Page and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
On Friday, April 6, Facebook announced that it would endorse and implement the disclosure requirements outlined in the Honest Ads Act. In today’s letters, Sens. Warner and Klobuchar asked Google and Twitter to do the same.
“The Honest Ads Act would apply analogous rules to online political advertisements that currently exist in traditional media, bringing long-overdue transparency to the opaque market of online political advertising. It would extend existing disclaimer obligations that print, broadcast, and cable ads must already meet to analogous political ads disseminated on online platforms… And it would require digital platforms to maintain a public record of political ads purchased by an advertiser who spends more than $500 in any 12 month period,” wrote the Senators. “Lastly, it requires that all advertising platforms – whether broadcast, radio or digital – make reasonable efforts to ensure that the prohibition on foreign nationals attempting to influence our elections through donations, expenditures or other things of value is not violated. These measures not only increase transparency in political advertising, but also promote accountability – both of platforms and of political advertisers.”
Warner, Klobuchar, McCain Introduce Legislation to Improve National Security and Protect Integrity of U.S. Elections by Bringing Transparency and Accountability to Online Political Ads
Oct 19 2017
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services today introduced the Honest Ads Act to help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.
“Online political advertising represents an enormous marketplace, and today there is almost no transparency. The Russians realized this, and took advantage in 2016 to spread disinformation and misinformation in an organized effort to divide and distract us,” Senator Warner said. “Our bipartisan Honest Ads Act extends transparency and disclosure to political ads in the digital space. At the end of the day, it is not too much to ask that our most innovative digital companies work with us by exercising additional judgment and providing some transparency.”
“First and foremost this is an issue of national security – Russia attacked us and will continue to use different tactics to undermine our democracy and divide our country, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads. We have to secure our election systems and we have to do it now – the next election is only 383 days away,” Senator Klobuchar said. “This bipartisan legislation would help protect our democracy by updating our laws to ensure that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as TV or radio stations – and make them public so Americans can see who is trying to influence them.”
“In the wake of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, it is more important than ever to strengthen our defenses against foreign interference in our elections,” said Senator McCain.“Unfortunately, U.S. laws requiring transparency in political campaigns have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology, allowing our adversaries to take advantage of these loopholes to influence millions of American voters with impunity. Our bipartisan legislation would address this serious challenge by expanding landmark campaign finance law to apply to internet and digital communications platforms that command a significant audience. I have long fought to increase transparency and end the corrupting influence of special interests in political campaigns, and I am confident this legislation will modernize existing law to safeguard the integrity of our election system.”
Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act would prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.
The Honest Ads Act enhances the integrity of our democracy by improving disclosure requirements for online political advertisements by:
- Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements.
- Requiring digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500.00 total on ads published on their platform. The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser.
- Requiring online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.
Companion legislation to the Honest Ads Act is being introduced today in the House of Representatives by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Mike Coffman (R-CO).
“The 2016 elections exposed glaring holes in our ability to police foreign intervention in US elections, and this bill is an appropriate, bipartisan disclosure remedy,” said Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and a former Republican Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “Voters have a right to be fully informed about who is trying to influence their vote, particularly foreign powers whose motives are contrary to American interests. The Honest Ads Act gives voters, journalists, and law enforcement officers important tools to help root out illegal foreign activity. The transparency this bill aims to provide in the 2018 elections and beyond will protect and enhance the integrity of our elections, which are the most fundamental component of American self-governance.”
“Ensuring transparency and accountability remain encoded into our democracy in the 21st century has taken on new importance and relevance in the wake of the 2016 election. We hope this bill, which merits serious consideration, catalyzes an overdue public debate and substantive action in Congress and the Federal Election Commission to create platform parity for political ad disclosure across TV, radio, print and Internet companies. Opacity by design is not an acceptable status quo for the technology giants that shape public knowledge and discourse with limited accountability,” said Alexander B. Howard, Deputy Director of the Sunlight Foundation.
“The bipartisan introduction of the Honest Ads Act is an important step toward bringing American campaign finance law into the internet age, by ensuring that online political advertisements are subject to the same kind of disclosure rules that already exist for ads on television and radio,” said Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “At a time when hostile foreign powers are trying to exploit loopholes in our campaign laws to manipulate American elections, it is especially important for Congress to come together across partisan lines to strengthen our democracy. The Brennan Center applauds Senators Klobuchar, Warner and McCain for reaching across partisan lines to introduce this significant bill.”
“Americans have a right to know who is using political advertising to influence their votes and their views. As technology changes and political advertising shifts to online platforms, our transparency laws should keep pace. The recent revelations of Kremlin-connected influence operations on Facebook and Twitter underscore how important it is for Congress to take meaningful action. The HONEST Act is a critical step forward in enhancing the transparency of online political advertising. Common Cause commends Senators Klobuchar, Warner and McCain for their strong bipartisan leadership in introducing this important bill to bolster the integrity of our democracy,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with oversight jurisdiction over federal elections, Klobuchar has introduced legislation to improve the security of U.S. election systems and make commonsense improvements to election administration. She and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the bipartisan Stop Foreign Donations Affecting Our Elections Act to strengthen disclosure by requiring federal campaigns to use existing credit card verification protocols to help verify that online credit card donations come from U.S. sources. Klobuchar and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also introduced bipartisan legislation to help states block cyber-attacks, secure voter registration logs and voter data, upgrade election auditing procedures, and create secure and useful information sharing about threats. In June, Klobuchar introduced the Helping State and Local Governments Prevent Cyber Attacks Act to help combat foreign interference by providing state and local governments with the information and resources they need to keep our elections secure and improve voter confidence.
As vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner has been at the forefront of the Committee’s ongoing bipartisan counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Warner also is the co-founder of the Senate’s bipartisan Cybersecurity Caucus. In addition, Sen. Warner is working to finalize bipartisan legislation to create a comprehensive, nationwide and uniform data breach standard, requiring timelier consumer notification for breaches of financial data and other sensitive information, and setting national data-protection standards for companies handling sensitive personal information.
Senator McCain has been a champion of campaign finance reform for decades. As a lead author of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, he has long advocated of transparency in the American electoral process.