As multiple investigations continue to focus on a clandestine Russian campaign to sway last year’s election, a bipartisan trio of senators is set to introduce legislation today that would advance every American’s right to know who is trying to influence our votes.
The HONEST Ads Act is scheduled to be unveiled early this afternoon by Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and Mark Warner, D-VA. It would require candidates, parties, groups and individuals who place political advertising on websites to include a tagline identifying themselves in each ad.
The bill also would require online companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to create searchable, sortable online databases of their political advertisers, including a digital copy of each ad, the amount of money spent on it, the target audience and number of 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," said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.
While the bill was developed by Klobuchar and Warner, it got a major boost on Wednesday when McCain was announced as a co-sponsor. The bill’s supporters hope McCain’s support will cut into expected opposition to the bill from other senior Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, an avowed foe of campaign finance disclosure.
"This is the first substantive bipartisan piece of legislation that’s trying to — with a very light touch, because we don’t want to slow down innovation, or restrict free speech or people’s access to the internet — to deal with the problem that we saw in 2016 in terms of foreign interference in our electoral process," Warner told reporters on Wednesday.
The bill closely tracks longstanding rules governing political advertising on television and radio. Broadcasters in most cities, as well as cable TV and satellite companies, already are required to maintain searchable and sortable online databases of their political ads; candidates, parties and political committees must identify themselves in their electioneering commercials.
Identifying information also is required in campaign materials delivered through the U.S. Mail.
Online advertising emerged as major part of last year’s presidential and congressional campaigns, when candidates, groups and individuals placed an estimated $1.5 billion worth of ads on thousands of websites.
Facebook has acknowledged that it published about 3,000 ads last year from what it now knows were Russian front groups; the messages were seen by 10 million Facebook users. Twitter has identified about 200 ad accounts with ties to Russia.
Those and other online ads are believed to be a major focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election and the possible involvement of the Trump campaign in the Russian effort. Many of the messages identified so far attacked Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton; others appear intended to sow racial discord inside the U.S. or feed public doubts about the security of ballots and the accuracy of vote counts.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections