Common Cause Presses FEC, Justice Department to Act on Facebook Ads

Complaint Charges That Russian-backed Messages Violated Federal Law

Posted by Dale Eisman on September 7, 2017


Citing new evidence that computer “trolls” backed by the Russian government placed political advertisements on Facebook last year, Common Cause today urged the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate and take legal action against those responsible for the messages.

“Americans expect and deserve clean elections and it is long past time for the Republican commissioners on the FEC to give up their ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ posture when it comes to foreign interference in on our elections,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. “It is time for the FEC to act and to act decisively for the good of the country, instead of for the good of the party.”

Evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, the six-member FEC is widely seen as the federal government’s most dysfunctional agency. Former Commission Chair Ann Ravel resigned shortly before the end orf her term earlier this year after issuing a scathing report accusing the FEC’s three Republican members of obstructing efforts to enforce campaign finance laws.

Ravel’s seat remains open, and President Trump announced today that he is nominating Commissioner Matthew Petersen for a federal judgeship, creating a second vacancy.

The commission’s rules require the votes of four commissioners to initiate investigations and take action against election law violators. Common Cause filed a formal complaint demanding an FEC investigation of the ads placed on Facebook and wrote Justice Department leaders to press for their involvement in the inquiry.

The FEC complaint and Justice Department letter note that federal law bars any U.S. political spending by foreign governments or individuals.

“The FEC needs to join the Department of Justice and U.S. Intelligence agencies in taking the threat of foreign interference in our elections seriously,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause’s vice president for policy and litigation. “There will no doubt be still more revelations about the depth and breadth of Russian interference in the 2016 election but drastic steps must be taken to address the massive threat to our elections in 2018, 2020 and beyond. This is a threat that is not going away.”

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller, the special counsel Rosenstein tapped to investigate Russian meddling in the election, Ryan urged that Mueller make the ads placed on Facebook part of his inquiry.

Published reports today indicate that Facebook has informed congressional investigators that Russian-backed internet trolls appear to have placed up to $150,000 worth of political ads between June 2015 and May of this year. The ads touched on a wide range of issues in the presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government waged an extensive campaign last year to boost Trump’s candidacy and undercut Clinton. While Russian-backed hackers also apparently penetrated voting and/or voter registration systems in more than 20 states, there is no evidence that votes or vote totals were altered.

Facebook’s acknowledgement of the Russian-backed ad purchases is the first publicly-disclosed evidence that the Russian effort included ads that made specific references to Clinton or Trump.

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Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems

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