Maryland Online Ad Disclosure Law Misses Mark, Judge Says

Bloomberg Government

A federal judge said he might strike down a Maryland law requiring increased disclosure of information about online political ads because it fails to address the statute’s intent to deal with foreign interference in elections.

The state Legislature passed the law earlier this year to deal with the threat highlighted by Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which is “about as concerning a matter as the state can address,” U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm said in Friday court hearing.

Grimm repeatedly said, however, that the law “was not a good fit” for the problem it intended to solve. A ruling on the constitutionality of such measures could have a broad impact. Maryland is one of a half-dozen states that have passed laws to regulate online ads in the wake of the 2016 election. Federal proposals also are being considered in Congress and the Federal Election Commission.

Defending the law during the hearing, attorney Erin Chlopak of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center said preventing foreign interference is only one goal of the measure. She said it would help voters know who’s paying for online ads, which are a fast-growing source of political messaging in campaigns.

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