- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2017

A group of 15 Democratic senators urged the Federal Election Commission to immediately require more disclosure about online political ads in the wake of Kremlin efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election by spreading disinformation through ads bought on Facebook, Twitter and Google.

“The actions undertaken by Russia should not be considered an anomaly,” wrote the senators in an official comment submitted to the FEC on Monday — the final day of a monthlong comment period. The regulatory body is considering whether it should update rules that currently exempt many online ads from the requirements applied to political ads that air on television and radio.

Earlier this month, the top lawyers for Facebook, Google and Twitter faced two days of contentious questions from congressional panels probing the Russia issue, including the Senate and House intelligence committees. The hearings highlighted the Silicon Valley giants’ inability to stop Kremlin propaganda from exploiting their social media platforms.

Dozens of the ads under scrutiny were also released and detailed a concerted Moscow-led effort to disrupt the American political process and whip up tensions around divisive social issues.

On Monday, led by Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Amy Klobuchar on Minnesota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the lawmakers urged the FEC to “take immediate and decisive action to ensure parity between ads seen on the Internet and those on television and radio.”

The letter was also signed by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Dianne Feinstein of California, Al Franken of Minnesota, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Last month, Mr. Warner and Ms. Klobuchar joined Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, to introduce bipartisan legislation — the Honest Ads Act — which would subject online political ad to the same set of transparency rules and regulations currently in place for political ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.

“The FEC must close loopholes that have allowed foreign adversaries to sow discord and misinform the American electorate,” the senators wrote the FEC on Monday. “The lack of transparency of digital ads is a threat to our national security. Without change, the misuse of online advertisements during the 2016 election will serve as a template for other foreign powers who wish to influence our elections.”

In their letter, the senators warned of social media’s unique ability to target audiences in ways that current broadcast, television or satellite-based communications cannot. They also noted that during the 2016 election, spending on digital advertising reached $1.4 billion, a 789 percent increase from the $159 million spent in 2012.

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