Honest Ads Act, anti-election meddling bill, reintroduced with bipartisan support

May 8, 2019 GMT

A bipartisan group of senators announced efforts Wednesday to pass a bill regulating online political advertisements appearing on platforms including Facebook and Twitter.

Proposed in response to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, passage of the Honest Ads Act would require political ads sold online to follow the same transparency rules as ones paid to be played on TV and radio.

“By requiring large digital platforms to meet the same disclosure standards as broadcast, cable and satellite ads, this legislation can help prevent foreign actors from manipulating the American public and interfering in our free and fair elections through the use of inauthentic and divisive paid ads,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the bill’s sponsors.


Previously pitched in 2017, the original bill was co-sponsored by Mr. Warner, Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, and the late Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Mr. Warner reintroduced it this week with Ms. Klobuchar, the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Foreign adversaries interfered in the 2016 election and are continuing to use information warfare to try to influence our government and divide Americans,” said Ms. Klobuchar, a candidate seeking the Democratic nomination to run against President Trump in 2020. “We must act now to protect our democracy and prevent this kind of interference from ever happening again.”

“Hardening our electoral infrastructure will require a comprehensive approach and it can’t be done with a single piece of legislation,” said Mr. Graham, a good friend of Mr. McCain’s prior to his passing in 2018. “I am cosponsoring this legislation because it’s clear we have to start somewhere.”

The Russian government attempted to interfere in the 2016 race won by Mr. Trump by conducting operations targeting both the U.S. electoral process and campaign of former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, federal officials have concluded.

In addition to using state-sponsored hackers to breach Democratic targets and steal sensitive data subsequently leaked online, Moscow’s efforts involved weaponizing social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, through ads and other postings created by the Internet Research Agency, a so-called “troll farm” whose employees were subsequently charged as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 race.


The Honest Ads Act would apply to platforms with least 50 million monthly viewers, effectively covering both Facebook and Twitter. It would require those companies to maintain a public record of all electioneering communications bought by anyone spending more than $500 on ads across their platform, including details about ads and their purchasers, the bill’s co-sponsors said in a press release Wednesday.

The bill is supported by both Facebook and Twitter, the senators said.