- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Democratic-sponsored effort to regulate political ads on social networks such as Facebook following last year’s White House race has garnered its first GOP supporter in Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota on Thursday introduced the Honest Ads Act, a bill meant to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections and increase transparency with regards to online political advertisements.

Mr. McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has agreed to co-sponsor the bill, making him the first Republican on Capitol Hill to formally endorse legislation targeting online political ads in the wake of last year’s presidential election.

The Honest Ads Act would “help prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads solid online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio and satellite,” according to its authors.

Federal law currently prohibits foreigners from spending money to attempt to influence the outcome of U.S. elections. The Honest Ads Act would amend the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to encompass online ads alongside traditional mediums like radio and TV, while also requiring digital platforms to keep a public file containing details for certain paid political ads, including purchasers’ contact information and a description of the intended audience.



“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,” Mr. Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, said Wednesday.

The contentious race was muddled by Russian-bought ads appearing on platforms including Facebook and Google amid a broader Kremlin-sponsored campaign, according to U.S. officials.

“In the wake of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, it is more important than ever to strengthen our defenses against foreign interference in our elections,” Mr. McCain said in a statement read by Ms. Klobuchar during a Thursday afternoon press conference formally introducing the bill. “Unfortunately U.S. laws requiring transparency in political campaigns have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology, allowing our adversaries to take advantage of these loopholes to influence millions of American voters with impunity.”

“I am confident this legislation will modernize existing law to safeguard the integrity of our election system,” Mr. McCain said in the statement.

The Russian government conducted an influence campaign in 2016 targeting the U.S. presidential election and particularly Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, according to the U.S. Director of the Office of National Intelligence.

President Trump has publicly doubted that assessment, however, and repeatedly decried news reports of Russia’s involvement in last year’s election as “fake news” — a term that emerged during the race to describe the influx of deliberately false and misleading articles being shared on social media.

In addition to meddling in the race by using state-sponsored hackers and propagandists, as referenced in the ODNI report, Russia allegedly exploited social media platforms to spread politically-charged advertisements and messages during and after last year’s election.

Individuals tied to the Kremlin purchased more than $100,000 worth of Facebook ads during the presidential race, the company announced last month, and Google said it sold at least $4,700 worth of ads to accounts associated with the Russian government.

Officials in the Justice Department, House and Senate, including both chambers’ intelligence committees, are currently investigating Russia’s involvement in last year’s race. Moscow has denied meddling in the contest.

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