Coffman, McCain lead bicameral bill targeting online political advertising by foreign entities

Following revelations that a Russian company bought 3,000 political ads on Facebook in an effort to sway the 2016 presidential election, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation on Thursday to strengthen the monitoring of online ads.

The Honest Ads Act would mandate that online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign entities are not buying political advertisements in order to influence American citizens.

The bill would allow the Federal Election Commission to better monitor influence in American politics by stipulating that political ads sold online are subject to the same rules as ads that are sold on TV, radio and satellite.

Digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly viewers would also be required to maintain a public database of all entities that spend more than $500 on political ads a year. Details such as contact information of the purchaser, a description of the audience that the advertisements targeted, the dates of publication and rates charged would be disclosed.

“I think it’s common sense that paid political advertising should be subject to the same disclosure requirements regardless of what form it takes,” Coffman said. “The American people deserve to know who’s paying for the ads they see on the internet just as much as they do the ads they see on TV or hear on the radio.”

Coffman introduced the House bill with U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and McCain introduced the Senate bill with U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA).

“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,” McCain said. “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 deceive millions of American voters with impunity.”

Facebook disclosed in September that Russian entities purchased $100,000 in political ads between June 2015 and May 2017 and published about 3,000 ads related to fake accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a pro-Kremlin organization, according to text of the bill.