McConnell Skeptical of Mandatory Disclosures for Facebook, Twitter Ads

Top Republican casts it as free speech issue

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is skeptical of a legislative solution to the security issues surrounding political advertising on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is casting doubt about the idea of enacting laws requiring disclosures for political ads on Facebook and Twitter.

“I’m a little skeptical of these disclosure-type proposals that are floating around, which strikes me would mostly penalize American citizens trying to use the internet and to advertise,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview that aired Saturday.

McConnell is known for his expansive view of the First Amendment when it comes to protecting political speech, including through campaign contributions and advertising.

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia joined with Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., in introducing the “Honest Ads Act” last month that would impose new disclosure requirements.

Klobuchar and Warner are the top Democrats on the Rules and Administration, and Intelligence Committees, respectively.

Technology companies were on Capitol Hill for a round of oversight hearings the past week, explaining that hundreds of millions of people were exposed to Russian-directed political advertising and content about the 2016 elections. 

That McConnell and McCain could be on opposite sides of a political spending question should come as no surprise given their long history of diverging views on the topic.

Speaking with Hugh Hewitt for his weekend MSNBC program, McConnell also signaled that Russians should not be able to have the free speech protections to which Americans are entitled by the Constitution.

“In any event, the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to foreigners,” McConnell said.

McConnell said that he thought the chief executives of social media companies should come to Capitol Hill to testify themselves. Company lawyers have tended to be the representatives offering testimony, but he did not call for any special commission.

“I don’t know whether we need some special entity to do it or not. We have committees here,” he said. “It certainly would help if the CEOs were willing to testify, but I think it’s a big, big subject with a lot of national security implications, and a lot of First Amendment concerns as well.”

“This is a tough area, trying to figure out how to balance national security versus the First Amendment,” McConnell said.

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