Graham, Klobuchar introduce internet ads bill to boost transparency

The bill would treat internet and social media campaign ads like current political ads on radio, TV and print

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., looks over papers before the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the "Department of Justice’s Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election" on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Attorney General Bill Barr testified during the hearing. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan bill to boost the transparency of political and campaign ads posted on social media and the internet is expected to be reintroduced Wednesday by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mark Warner, D-Va.

The bill, first introduced in the 115th Congress, would treat internet and social media campaign ads like current political ads on radio, television and in print, which have to disclose publicly who paid for them.

[Klobuchar finds Attorney General Barr unaware of major election security legislation]

In addition, websites and digital platforms would have to keep on file fairly extensive information on purchasers, their target audiences, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication and the rates charged.

Finally, the bill would require online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political ads in order to influence the American electorate.

Twitter and Facebook have endorsed the legislation, and already taken some steps to carry out some of its requirements.

Graham, in sponsoring the bill, takes the place of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who died in August 2018.

“Hardening our electoral infrastructure will require a comprehensive approach and it can’t be done with a single piece of legislation,” Graham said. “I am co-sponsoring this legislation because it’s clear we have to start somewhere. I am pleased to work with Sens. 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.”

Klobuchar said in a statement, “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. The goal of the Honest Ads Act is simple: to ensure that voters know who is paying to influence our political system.”

At last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the special counsel’s Russia investigation, Attorney General William Barr agreed to review the bill after questioning from Klobuchar.

“In 2016, Russia waged widespread disinformation campaigns that exploited social media in an effort to attack our democracy and divide the American public,” Warner said. “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.”

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