Bipartisan Bills in House and Senate Would Give Tools to Fight Foreign Interference in Future Elections

Bills address glaring gaps in election law exposed by Russia’s interference in 2016 election

WASHINGTON – Today, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ) announced they are introducing the Honest Ads Act. The House is also introducing a bipartisan companion bill. These Acts are a forceful and timely response to the most pressing vulnerabilities of election law exposed by Russia’s cyber campaign in the 2016 presidential election. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) advised the offices of the Senators who are sponsoring this important legislation.

HONEST stands for “Holding Online National Electioneering ads to the Same Test.” Its purpose is to modernize the laws surrounding the ban on foreign election interference by ensuring that paid internet ads are subject to the same disclaimer and recordkeeping rules that currently apply to television ads and radio ads. If enacted, this bill would require major sellers of online advertising – like Google, Facebook and Twitter – to keep a publicly available database of significant political advertising, including the content of the ads and who paid for them.

“The 2016 elections exposed glaring holes in our ability to police foreign intervention in US elections, and these bills are an appropriate, bipartisan disclosure remedy,” said Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and a former Republican Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “Voters have a right to be fully informed about who is trying to influence their vote, particularly foreign powers whose motives are contrary to American interests. The Honest Ads Act gives voters, journalists, and law enforcement officers important tools to help root out illegal foreign activity. The transparency this bill aims to provide in the 2018 elections and beyond will protect and enhance the integrity of our elections, which are the most fundamental component of American self-governance.”

“Political activity is increasingly moving online, so this bill is a necessary step to bring our election laws into the 21st century and safeguard against anonymous foreign interference,” said Adav Noti, senior director of trial litigation at CLC, who previously served as the FEC’s Associate General Counsel for Policy. “The FEC has failed to provide meaningful guidance as to how its 1970s-era rules apply to modern digital advertising. Congress should pass the Honest Ads Act to make sure that major sellers of online ads aren’t selling them to foreign interlopers, and to create strong disincentives against foreign actors targeting American voters with election-related messages.”

The introduction of the Honest Ads Act comes one week after CLC’s foreign interference event on Oct. 12, which brought together national security, cybersecurity, and campaign finance law experts to examine the vulnerabilities of our laws and discuss solutions about how to protect our democracy against foreign influence.