FEC Takes Big First Step Towards Transparency for Online Political Ads

Voters have a right to know information about who is trying to influence their vote

WASHINGTON – Today, for the first time, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) agreed that Facebook political ads must include disclaimers stating who paid for them, in response to an advisory opinion request that the Campaign Legal Center filed on behalf of Take Back Action Fund.

“Today’s FEC vote to require disclaimers on Facebook ads is a victory for the voters’ right to know who is paying for political attack ads,” said John Pudner, president of Take Back Action Fund. “The FEC has deadlocked on many issues in recent years, so it is a breakthrough to have a unanimous vote in favor of disclosure.”

“This is a positive first step, but the FEC itself created this confusion in 2010, and it’s embarrassing that it took the FEC seven years to start fixing the problem,” said Adav Noti, senior director, trial litigation at CLC, who previously served as the FEC’s associate general counsel for policy. “Plenty of work remains to be done to give voters, journalists, watchdog groups, and law enforcement the tools they need to detect and root out illegal foreign election activity on social media.”

“Today’s vote by the FEC helped close some of the transparency loopholes exploited by foreign actors to secretly buy ads in the 2016 elections, said Brendan Fischer, director, federal and FEC reform at CLC. “But the FEC commissioners’ disagreement about how far this advisory opinion should reach speaks to the need for a broad rulemaking to bring similar clarity for online political ads on any platform.”

CLC’s Director of Federal and FEC Reform, Brendan Fischer, testified before the FEC today. CLC represented the conservative advocacy nonprofit Take Back Action Fund in calling for the advisory opinion request on October 31 that resulted in today’s decision by the FEC. CLC also filed comments on November 8 in response to the FEC’s most recent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on internet disclaimers, supporting new rules to provide clarity and close loopholes.

Digital political ads have grown rapidly. According to a report by Borrell Associates, $159.8 million was spent on digital election ads in 2012. This number rose to $1.4 billion in 2016.

Here is the FEC's opinion.