Sarbanes, Heinrich Lead Democratic Coalition Calling on FEC to Help Prevent Foreign Governments from Using Social Media Ads to Influence U.S. Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) today led a coalition of Democratic House and Senate members, including Representative Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) in sending a letter to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) urging the agency to consider new rules that would prevent foreign nationals from using online advertising platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to influence U.S. elections.

The letter comes amid media reports that a Russian company purchased Facebook ads in an attempt to influence American voters during the 2016 election. In the letter, Congressman Sarbanes, Senator Heinrich and 15 of their colleagues expressed concern that no guidelines or penalties exist to prevent foreign nationals from buying online ads to influence U.S. elections.

“Foreign political activity is a direct assault on federal election law and the integrity of our elections,” the Members wrote. “The Federal Elections Campaign Act bars foreign nationals, companies, or governments from spending, either directly or indirectly, in U.S. elections. Social media platforms offer the ability to target millions of users based upon a wealth of highly-detailed information. As we have seen, the low cost of reaching these users equips hostile foreign actors with a powerful new tool for disruption of our democratic process. Therefore, it is incumbent that the Commission take immediate action to preserve the integrity of our election law and our elections.”

The Members continued: “We encourage the Federal Election Commission to take immediate steps to understand the threats posed to our democratic process by foreign influenced internet and social media advertisement, and to promulgate new guidance on how advertisement platforms can better prevent foreign nationals from illicitly spending in future U.S. elections.”

The letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and U.S. Reps. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.).

A copy of the letter is available here.