Splinter News: How Hillary Clinton's Campaign Lawyer Helped Facebook Avoid Political Ad Disclosure


In 2011, Elias represented Facebook when it asked the FEC to exempt their ads from rules that require “public communications” in campaigns, like political TV ads or direct mail, to include a disclaimer saying who paid for that ad. The FEC exempts “small items” from disclaimers on who paid for them—that’s why political TV ads say who paid for them but bumper stickers don’t—on the basis that it’s impractical to have to put a long disclaimer in a small space. Facebook asked the FEC to extend that “small item” exemption to ads on their website, saying it was not feasible or possible to provide disclaimers about funding in their very tiny ads, which are limited to 160 characters.


Brendan Fischer, the FEC reform program director at the Campaign Legal Center, told Splinter that the disclosures Elias and Facebook fought against may have deterred Russia “from running Facebook ads in the first place if every online campaign ad required a disclaimer stating who paid for it. And even if foreign actors were to try hiding behind innocuously-named front groups, a disclaimer could have provided the press and public enough clues to uncover a foreign influence effort.”

Fischer also argues that the FEC should require the same disclosures for online political ads as for all other ads, and says Facebook “can find ways to make it easy for advertisers to include such a disclaimer and for users to access it.”