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H.R.4077 / S.1989 - Honest Ads Act

To enhance transparency and accountability for online political advertisements by requiring those who purchase and publish such ads to disclose information about the advertisements to the public, and for other purposes.



You might favor this bill if:
►  You believe internet media companies and internet platforms should disclose the identity of advertisers when the ads relate to political campaigns or elections. The internet industry should no longer be exempt from the same regulations as the television and radio industries have for years in campaign finance law.

You might oppose this bill if:
►  You believe regulating political advertisements might ultimately influence free speech. The legislation might impose burdens on Americans’ speech rights rather than target the foreign entities that might be interfering with American elections.


The Honest Ads Act would force internet media companies to disclose the identity and content of advertisements related to political elections or campaigns.

Since 1966, foreign spending has been banned from U.S. political elections. In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act made television and radio providers disclose the identities of political advertisements. This act did not include internet providers or internet platforms since the internet was in its early stages at the time. This legislation aims to close this loophole by updating finance campaign laws to include internet media companies.

The legislation details a set of findings which include multiple statistics of foreign intervention in the 2016 elections, the danger that such interventions can impose on American democracy, and the testimony of a former National Security Agency Director regarding the role of the Soviet Union in the manipulation of propaganda during the Cold War.

Among these, some findings include:
- “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operation—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, State-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”
- “the Washington Post reported findings from 2 teams of independent researchers that concluded Russians “exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment … as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders.”
- “According to a study from Borrell Associates, in 2016, $1,415,000,000 was spent on online advertising, more than quadruple the amount in 2012.”
- “The reach of a few large internet platforms—larger than any broadcast, satellite, or cable provider—has greatly facilitated the scope and effectiveness of disinformation campaigns. For instance, the largest platform has over 210,000,000 American users—over 160,000,000 of them on a daily basis. By contrast, the largest cable television provider has 22,430,000 subscribers, while the largest satellite television provider has 21,000,000 subscribers. And the most-watched television broadcast in U.S. history had 118,000,000 viewers.”

The legislation calls on “Congress and the Federal Election Commission to take meaningful action to ensure that laws and regulations provide the accountability and transparency that is fundamental to our democracy.” It notes that free and fair elections require both transparency and accountability to give the public the true sources of political advertisements and to ensure the enforcement of other campaign finance laws, including the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals.

Supporters of the legislation see this as an issue of national security.

“First and foremost this is an issue of national security, Russia attacked us and will continue to use different tactics to undermine our democracy and divide our country, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads,” Senator Klobuchar said in a press release.


“The 2016 elections exposed glaring holes in our ability to police foreign intervention in US elections, and this bill is 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.”


Those who oppose the legislation are afraid it could ultimately take a toll on free speech.


“The legislative principles the Senators have announced are concerning. Though purporting to regulate Russia, in fact this regulates Americans,” said former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chair Brad Smith. “By imposing more broad burdens on Americans’ speech rights rather than targeting foreign interests interfering with our elections, their bill would make America look a little bit more like Russia.”

H.R.4077

Sponsored by: Rep. Kilmer, Derek [D-WA-6].

Cosponsored by: 8 Rep / 7 Dem.

See list of cosponsors.



S.1989

Sponsored by: Sen. Klobuchar, Amy [D-MN].

Cosponsored by: 1 Rep / 17 Dem.

See list of cosponsors.




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