CLC Urges FEC to Halt Secret Online Ads to Deter Foreign Interference

WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed comments with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) urging it to write new rules clarifying that digital political ads must include “disclaimers” stating who paid for the ads.

“The time is long overdue for the FEC to shore up the vulnerabilities that were exploited by foreign actors in the 2016 elections,” said Brendan Fischer, director of federal and FEC reform at CLC. “A political ad run on TV must include a disclaimer telling voters who paid for it, and the FEC should clarify that disclaimer rules still apply when the same ad is run on the Internet.”  

As CLC noted in its comments:

“The Commission’s failure to clarify the rules allowed both foreign- and domestic-sponsored digital political ads in 2016 to omit disclaimers—meaning that thousands of Russian political ads were allowed to circulate without information about who paid for them, and that voters, watchdog groups, and law enforcement could not identify which ads were funded by foreign sources.”

Additionally, CLC’s comments noted:

“Had effective online disclaimer rules been in place in 2016, Russia’s wide-ranging influence campaign might have been detected sooner, or Russia might have been deterred from engaging in the effort in the first place."

Digital advertising has grown rapidly in recent election cycles: at least $1.4 billion spent on digital ads in 2016, up from $159.8 million in 2012.

Additionally, on Oct. 31, 2017, CLC and Take Back Action Fund filed an advisory opinion request that will require the FEC to provide guidance by early 2018 about how existing rules apply to disclaimers for Facebook political ads.