Take Back Action Fund and CLC Demand Clarity on Online Ad Disclosure Rules Within 60 Days

WASHINGTON – As the Federal Election Commission drags its feet on new rules to address foreign interference, Take Back Action Fund and the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) today filed an advisory opinion request that will require the FEC to address gaps in online ad transparency requirements by the end of 2017.

TBAF is a conservative 501(c)(4) organization that plans to purchase ads targeting liberals during the 2018 election cycle on Facebook. Its advisory opinion request asks whether those ads need to include disclaimers, and notes that the capacity for digital ads to include disclaimers has changed significantly since the FEC’s last guidance on the issue in 2010.

By law, the FEC must respond to an Advisory Opinion Request within 60 days.

Years of inaction by the FEC have created ambiguity about when disclaimers stating who paid for a message are required for online political ads, and Russian nationals exploited this ambiguity to covertly circulate political ads on Facebook and other online platforms in 2015 and 2016.

The FEC may not write new online ad rules for quite some time. And legislation may not be enacted any time soon. But by using this advisory request mechanism, TBAF and CLC are invoking their legal right to ensure that the FEC timely address the issue of disclaimers for online political ads.

“It is time for the FEC to join the 21st century and end the confusion over online election ads,” said Adav Noti, senior director, trial litigation and strategy at CLC, who previously served as the FEC’s Associate General Counsel for Policy. “This advisory opinion request legally requires the FEC to clarify whether election ads on Facebook must include a statement disclosing who paid for the ad. Because social media companies have proven that they are unable or unwilling to self-police, the FEC must act.  This advisory opinion will provide for election-ad disclaimers so voters, journalists, watchdog groups, and law enforcement have some of the tools they need to root out illegal foreign activity.”

"I am filing this request with the FEC because I am dead set against the ridiculous lack of transparency in politics that invites countries like Russia to secretly run political ads, but if the FEC is going to allow this abuse then Take Back Action Fund plans to play by the same rules and run advertisements without disclosures," said John Pudner, President of Take Back Action Fund. "My hope is rather that the FEC will break their log jam to at least stop the one thing almost all Americans agree on - that it is our job to safe guard our elections against foreign infiltration."

Digital advertising accounts for a large and growing portion of election-related ads, including $1.4 billion in spending in the 2016 cycle alone. CLC supports the bipartisan legislative disclosure solution — the Honest Ads Act — that was introduced in both the Senate and House on October 19, but until that bill is enacted, the FEC must clarify the requirements for online ad disclaimers.