Warner, Klobuchar, Graham introduce legislation to protect integrity of elections

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), along with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), today introduced the Honest Ads Act, which will require large online platforms to maintain public records of advertisers who purchase political ads.

Companion legislation is being introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and 24 other bipartisan cosponsors.

“In 2016, Russia waged widespread disinformation campaigns that exploited social media in an effort to attack our democracy and divide the American public. As we continue to grow increasingly dependent on a handful of very large platforms, there is no doubt in my mind that foreign adversaries will continue to follow in Russia’s footsteps, exploiting the scale, amplification, and lack of transparency of these platforms in order to undermine the strength of the United States and advance their own anti-American agendas,” Sen. Warner said. “Right now, our country needs strong defenses that help ward off shady online attacks by demanding increased transparency, which is why I’m proud to introduce the Honest Ads Act. By requiring large digital platforms to meet the same disclosure standards as broadcast, cable, and satellite ads, this legislation can help prevent foreign actors from manipulating the American public and interfering in our free and fair elections through the use of inauthentic and divisive paid ads.”

“Foreign adversaries interfered in the 2016 election and are continuing to use information warfare to try to influence our government and divide Americans. We must act now to protect our democracy and prevent this kind of interference from ever happening again,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “The goal of the Honest Ads Act is simple: to ensure that voters know who is paying to influence our political system. The bill would put in place the same rules of the road for social media platforms that currently apply to political ads sold on TV, radio, and in print regarding disclaimers and disclosures so that Americans know who is behind the ads they see online. I also want to commend Senator Graham for taking up the mantle of bipartisanship from our late friend, Senator John McCain. Protecting our elections isn’t about politics—it’s about national security and the future of our democracy. I look forward to working with him and Senator Warner to get the Honest Ads Act passed.”

“Hardening our electoral infrastructure will require a comprehensive approach and it can’t be done with a single piece of legislation,” Sen. Graham said.  “I am cosponsoring this legislation because it’s clear we have to start somewhere. I am pleased to work with Senators Klobuchar and Warner to address the gaps that currently exist, particularly with regards to social media. Online platforms have made some progress but there is more to be done. Foreign interference in U.S. elections – whether Russia in the 2016 presidential election or another rogue actor in the future – poses a direct threat to our democracy. I intend to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bolster our defenses and defend the integrity of our electoral system.”

Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Russia attempted to influence the American electorate by using fake accounts to buy and place political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Without greater transparency and disclosure requirements, foreign adversaries and bad actors copying their playbook can continue exploiting the opacity of large social media platforms.

The Honest Ads Act would improve disclosure requirements for online political advertisements by:

  • Amending the definition of ‘electioneering communication’ in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, to include paid internet and digital advertisements.
  • Requiring digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly visitors 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. This 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.
  • 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.

The Honest Ads Act has the support of the Campaign Legal Center, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the Brennan Center for Justice, Issue One, the Sunlight Foundation, and the Center for American Progress, as well as Facebook, and Twitter.

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