Demand disclosure for online political ads!

Americans have a right to know who is trying to influence our votes and opinions.

That’s why it’s unsettling to learn how Russian agents used fake accounts to pay for online political ads during the 2016 election -- targeting voters in key swing states to push conspiracy theories and stoke social unrest. It’s just the latest example of their attempts to influence and undermine our democracy.

According to Facebook, millions of people saw the Russian-funded ads that it hosted. We should have known more, in real-time, about who was behind those ads. That’s why we need better transparency rules to know who is paying for online ads. Disclosure helps to protect our right to know who’s trying to influence our votes.

That’s why I need you to speak out right now -- add your name to our official comments (read below) and demand strong, modern disclosure rules for online ads.

NOTE: Once you sign, your name, city, state, and ZIP code will be submitted as part of our official comment, and will become part of the public record, and the Federal Election Commission will make comments available for public viewing on its website and in the its Public Records Office.

Our official comment (click to expand)

These comments are submitted by Common Cause and [#####] members and supporters (see Appendix A) in response to the Commission’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) 2017-12, published at 82 Fed. Reg. 46937 (Oct. 10, 2017), reopening its earlier requests for comment on “whether to begin a rulemaking to revise its regulations concerning disclaimers on certain internet communications and, if so, on what changes should be made to those rules.” Id. Common Cause and [#####] members and supporters urge the Commission to begin such a rulemaking.

Approximately $1.415 billion was spent on online political advertising in the 2016 election cycle, with the shift from traditional media to digital media accelerating rapidly and social media sites like Facebook receiving $2 out of every $5 spent on digital ads.1 The overwhelming majority of these ads have not contained the “paid for by” disclaimer required by federal statute—and the Commission has failed to effectively interpret and enforce the law.

One Russian “troll factory” spent approximately $2.3 million distributing propaganda via social media platforms to influence the 2016 election.2 Facebook has acknowledged that Russians spent more than $100,000 on approximately 3,000 ads that were seen by 10 million U.S. users3 —this is undoubtedly just the tip of the Russian election spending iceberg. Yet in 2011 Facebook requested an advisory opinion from this Commission that those purchasing political ads do not have to include a “paid for by” disclaimer on such ads. See Advisory Opinion Request 2011-09. Any offers now by Facebook and other internet businesses to self-impose disclaimer and disclosure practices are insufficient. Internet businesses exist to make money; this Commission exists to regulate and provide transparency of money in federal elections.

The Commission seeks comment on the informational benefits of disclaimers on internet communications to enable voters to evaluate the arguments to which they are being subjected and to avoid voter confusion regarding contribution solicitations. The Supreme Court has for more than 40 years consistently and repeatedly upheld federal law disclaimer requirements because they “provid[e] the electorate with information” and “‘insure that the voters are fully informed’ about the person or group who is speaking.” Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310, 368 (2010) (quoting McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93, 196 (2003) and Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 76 (1976)).

The Commission has been considering whether to revise its existing rules since 2011. More than half-a-decade later, as technology continues to evolve, the grave consequences of inaction are clear. It is long past time for the Commission to proceed with better rules that it will enforce.

Common Cause and its members have been harmed by the lack of disclaimers on internet communications—and by the Commission’s failure to effectively interpret and enforce the statutory disclaimer requirements. The rulemaking proposed by ANPRM 2017-12 is long overdue.

Common Cause and its member signatories to these comments (see Appendix A) request the opportunity to testify at any hearing held in this rulemaking. We appreciate the opportunity to submit these comments.


Footnotes:
1) Sean J. Miller, Digital Ad Spending Tops Estimates, CAMPAIGNS & ELECTIONS, Jan. 4, 2017, available at https://www.campaignsandelections.com/campaign-insider/digital-ad-spending-tops-estimates.
2) Hannah Levintova, Russian Journalists Just Published a Bombshell Investigation About a Kremlin-Linked “Troll Factory”, MOTHER JONES (October 18, 2017), http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/russian-journalists-just-published-a-bombshell-investigation-about-a-kremlin-linked-troll-factory/.
3) Alex Stamos, An Update On Information Operations On Facebook, FACEBOOK NEWSROOM (September 6, 2017), https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/09/information-operations-update/; David Ingram, Facebook Says 10 Million U.S. Users Saw Russia-Linked Ads, REUTERS, (Oct. 2, 2017), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-advertising/facebook-says-10-million-u-s-users-saw-russia-linked-ads-idUSKCN1C71YM.

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Demand disclosure for online political ads!

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Demand disclosure for online political ads!

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