GOP Sen. John McCain will join two Democratic lawmakers Thursday to introduce legislation requiring increased transparency in the digital political ad space, in an effort to curtail the ability of foreign adversaries to influence U.S. elections.
The bill, known as the Honest Ads Act, will require the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to regulate internet companies in much the same way they currently regulate TV, radio and print publications. Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia joined McCain in sponsoring the bill that requires internet companies to maintain a public file detailing information about the source and scale of each political ad purchase.
“The 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 contract information of the purchaser,” according to a preview of the act obtained by Axios.
Tech companies are preparing for what will likely be a wave of regulatory efforts by lawmakers motivated by a desire to be seen as responding aggressively to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Both Facebook and Google have launched comprehensive lobbying efforts to preemptively shape favorable FEC rule changes and mold the impending bipartisan legislative efforts.
The FEC, which regulates political ads in all other mediums, has left the digital ad space relatively unbridled due to a so-called internet exemption that states the internet is “a unique and evolving mode of mass communication and political speech that is distinct from other media in a manner that warrants a restrained regulatory approach.”
Proponents of increased regulation argue this exemption enabled Facebook to sell roughly $100,000 worth of ad space to a Russian Kremlin linked company during the 2016 presidential election.
The bipartisan bill would “prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio and satellite,” Klobuchar and Warner said in a statement released Wednesday.
The two Democratic lawmakers decried the lack of transparency in the digital political ad space, arguing the origin and content of the Russian ad buys “are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology.”
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