Online Ad Campaign Bill would require more disclosures for digital ads

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October 22, 2017 by Paul Dughi

It’s been a long time coming.  Television and radio stations have had to live up to often onerous regulations on political advertising.  From requiring identification on funding, how large and prominent certain disclosures are, and maintaining online political files showing who bought what, where it ran, and how much they paid.  In some cases, long lists of officers and funders were required.

Online political ads?  Nothing.

With all the talk about Russian interference in the last election, including buying ads on Facebook and other social media platforms, Congress is trying to do something about it.

“Americans have a right to know who is using political advertising to influence their votes and their views,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “As technology changes and political advertising shifts to online platforms, our transparency laws should keep pace.”

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 have introduced what they call the “Honest Ads Act” to help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.

Here are the obligatory quotes:

  • “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.
  • “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,” said Senator Klobuchar.
  • “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,” said Senator Warner

Here are the specific things the Act does:

  1. Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

“Americans have a right to know who is using political advertising to influence their votes and their views,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause.

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