Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo have joined 16 other members of Congress to sponsor a bipartisan bill that would seek to stymie foreign political online advertising like that alleged in the 2016 campaign by Russia.
The bill, House Resolution 4077, dubbed the “Honest Ads Act,” seeks to improve disclosure requirements for political digital advertising so that other countries or their agents cannot seek to influence American elections by buying advertising on social media or elsewhere online.
The bill aims to expand existing Federal Election Commission disclosure requirements from applying just to “broadcasting stations, or in newspapers, magazines, or similar types of general public political advertising” to applying to “in any public communication.”
It also would require very large online platforms to “maintain, and make available for online public inspection a complete record of any request to purchase on such online platform a qualified political advertisement.”
“Radio, TV, and print political advertisements are required to be transparent — social media should not be exempt,” Crist stated. “Disclosure helps protect the integrity of our elections from foreign interference. This is a smart and much-needed bipartisan election reform.”
The effort is a response to increasing revelations that foreign agents, particularly from Russia, attempted to flood Facebook and other social media with unidentified political advertisements.
The bill is being pushed by Issue One, a nonpartisan, nonprofit government reform group, which has just published a white paper that found that 14 percent — a total of $1.4 billion — of the money spent on political advertising in 2016 went toward online political ads, but “because of legal loopholes and the nature of digital advertising, who paid for these ads designed to influence the election has been a secret.”
The bill’s preamble declares:
“It is the sense of Congress that the dramatic increase in digital political advertisements, and the growing centrality of online platforms in the lives of Americans, requires the Congress and the Federal Election Commission to take meaningful action to ensure that laws and regulations provide the accountability and transparency that is fundamental to our democracy;
“Free and fair elections require both transparency and accountability which give the public a right to know the true sources of funding for political advertisements in order to make informed political choices and hold elected officials accountable; and transparency of funding for political advertisements is essential to enforce other campaign finance laws, including the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals.”
In addition to Crist and Curbelo, initial sponsors of the bill include Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado, Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Leonard Lance of New Jersey, Tom Reed of New York, and David Young of Iowa; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Jim Costa of California, Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut, Derek Kilmer of Washington, John Sarbanes of Maryland, Brad Schneider of Illinois, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Krysten Sinema of Arizona, and Tom Suozzi of New York.