Democrats To FEC — Ensure Online Ads Disclose Who Paid For Them

By on November 14, 2017

We’re all familiar with campaign ads on our televisions and over the radio disclosing who pays for them. “I’m (insert name here), and I approve this message,” is a phrase we’ve all heard. But what about for social media?

A group of Democratic senators is urging the Federal Elections Commission to close loopholes that allow online ads to appear without disclosing who they were paid for by. In a joint letter to FEC Chair Steven T. Walther, the senators make the case for why these ads need disclosure — especially in the wake of 2016.

“Over the past year, our country has come to realize the ease with which foreign actors can interfere in our elections, undermining the integrity of – and reducing public confidence in – the electoral process,” the letter begins. “As part of a wide-ranging interference campaign during the 2016 election, Russian operatives used advertisements on social media platforms to sow division and discord, distorting public discourse and coarsening our political debate.”

Knowing which organizations are paying for political ads could help users realize where the ads originate from — and whether they’re a legitimate U.S. group focused on an important policy issue, or part of a foreign influence campaign.

Fifteen senators in total signed the letter to the FEC chair. They include Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Al Franken (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

“We believe the FEC can and should take immediate and decisive action to ensure parity between ads seen on the internet and those on television and radio,” the senators added. “The FEC must close loopholes that have allowed foreign adversaries to sow discord and misinform the American electorate.”

The need for disclosure is sorely needed. Over past weekend, President Donald Trump made clear that he trusted Russia President Vladimir Putin when he was told that Russia didn’t interfere. Most lawmakers, thankfully, know better, and recognize that our elections are vulnerable to influence from foreign powers.

The 15 senators above, and others who didn’t join in the letter, are right to be skeptical of who the president trusts. Russia will continue trying to influence our elections, unless direct action is taken to deter them from doing so. The FEC should immediately put into place a set of policies that require advertisements on social media to explain, in clear detail, who exactly is paying for them. If Trump attempts to interfere in that process, the American people should recognize that as a dangerous and worrisome move.