Representatives Kilmer and Stefanik Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation with Senators Graham, Warner, and Klobuchar to Improve National Security and Protect Integrity of U.S. Elections by Bringing Transparency and Accountability to Online Political Ads

The Honest Ads Act would help prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite platforms.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and Elise Stefanik (NY-21) reintroduced the Honest Ads Act to help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements. The bill would ensure online political advertisements are better monitored by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and would enable the FEC to enact rules for online advertisement similar to those in place for television, radio, and satellite ads, with the goal of making clear to the American public who is funding these online ads and to inhibit foreign actors from purchasing them.

 The legislation, which was included in H.R. 1 and passed the House of Representatives earlier this year, is co-sponsored by 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans in the House. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, also released companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.

 “Foreign interests shouldn’t be able to buy online ads to influence American elections, period,” said Rep. Kilmer. “With countless intelligence assessments confirming our vulnerabilities and another election right around the corner, it’s imperative that Congress fix the loopholes and ensure Americans know who is paying for the ads they’re seeing, including online ads. This important, bipartisan legislation will ensure that our laws are up to date with the latest technology and make it harder for foreign actors to use the internet to attack our democracy.”

 “One of my top priorities in Congress is advocating for the transparency and security of our elections,” said Rep. Stefanik. “The Honest Ads Act will prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that online political advertising follows the same rules as television advertising and discloses the purchaser. There is no doubt that Russia has tried to interfere in our electoral process, and I’m proud to cosponsor this bipartisan effort to ensure they, or any other foreign entity, are not successful.”

 According to multiple intelligence reports, Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on online digital platforms. The identity of the purchaser(s) and developer(s) of the content for those online advertisements remain a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act 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 platforms.

 The Honest Ads Act proposes improving disclosure requirements for online political advertisements by:

  • Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements.
  • Requiring digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500.00 total on ads published on their platform. 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 contact information of the purchaser.
  • Requiring online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.

“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,” Klobuchar said. “The goal of the Honest Ads Act is simple: to ensure that voters know who is paying to influence our political system. The bill would put in place the same rules of the road for social media platforms that currently apply to political ads sold on TV, radio, and in print regarding disclaimers and disclosures so that Americans know who is behind the ads they see online.”

“I also want to commend Senator Graham for taking up the mantle of bipartisanship from our late friend, Senator John McCain. Protecting our elections isn’t about politics—it’s about national security and the future of our democracy. I look forward to working with him and Senator Warner to get the Honest Ads Act passed,” she added.

“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 cosponsoring this legislation because it’s clear we have to start somewhere. I am pleased to work with Senators 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. Foreign interference in U.S. elections – whether Russia in the 2016 presidential election or another rogue actor in the future – poses a direct threat to our democracy. I intend to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bolster our defenses and defend the integrity of our electoral system.”

“In 2016, Russia waged widespread disinformation campaigns that exploited social media in an effort to attack our democracy and divide the American public. As we continue to grow increasingly dependent on a handful of very large platforms, there is no doubt in my mind that foreign adversaries will continue to follow in Russia’s footsteps, exploiting the scale, amplification, and lack of transparency of these platforms in order to undermine the strength of the United States and advance their own anti-American agendas,” Warner said. “Right now, our country needs strong defenses that help ward off shady online attacks by demanding increased transparency, which is why I’m proud to introduce the Honest Ads Act. 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.”

The Honest Ads Act is supported by the Campaign Legal Center, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Sunlight Foundation, the Center for American Progress, Issue One, Facebook, Twitter, and Mozilla.