Russian Facebook Political Ad Buys During 2016 Election Draw DOJ & FEC Complaints

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  • David Vance

Today Common Cause filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that one or more unknown foreign nationals made expenditures, independent expenditures or disbursements in connection with the 2016 presidential election in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. 

Late yesterday the Washington Post reported that Facebook had informed congressional investigators that it had discovered through an internal review of 2015-17 advertising sales that approximately $150,000 in political ads were likely purchased by a Russia-based social media troll operation. The paper also reported that a number of the ads mentioned presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by name.

“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 Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “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.”

“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. This is a matter of national security,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause 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.”

According to the report and a public statement issued by Facebook, the company had informed congressional investigators that it had identified roughly 3,000 political ads purchased by 470 affiliated fake accounts based in Russia at a cost of $100,000 between June of 2015 and May of 2017. The company review also identified an additional $50,000 in ad buys that appeared to be related to the Russian trolling operation.   

U.S. intelligence agencies previously concluded in a declassified report that “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.” The same report concluded that the likely financier of these covert operations was a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin with ties to Russian Intelligence agencies. 

Yesterday’s revelations represent the first publicly confirmed evidence that these efforts included the purchase of candidate specific advertising. 

To read the DOJ complaint, click here.

To read the FEC complaint, click here