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Daily Action: Mandate Disclosure for Online Political Advertising

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

DC: (202) 224-3841
LA: (310) 914-7300
Sen. Kamala Harris
DC: (202) 224-3553
LA:  (213) 894-5000
Rep. Julia Brownley: 
DC: (202) 225-5811
Thousand Oaks: (805) 379-1779
Rep. Ted Lieu:
DC: (202) 225-3976
LA: (323) 651-1040
Rep. Steve Knight:
DC: (202) 225-1956
Simi Valley: (805) 581-7130

Sample Script:
Hello, my name is __________, and I am a constituent of Senator/Representative ___________'s in _______________, California. I am calling to urge the congressperson/senator to craft and support tough legislation that mandates disclosure of funding sources for online political ads -- at least as effectively as we currently regulate such ads on TV, radio and in print. I also want her/him to support a congressional ban on anonymous and semi-anonymous payment methods for advertising on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and to make it impossible to buy a political advertisement in the U.S. without an American bank account. Senate Bill 1989, the Honest Ads Act, is a start, but Congress needs to go much further in stopping Russian troll farms such as the one whose executives were indicted by Robert Mueller earlier this month. Thank you!

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury has indicted executives of a Russian "troll farm" known as the "Internet Research Agency" -- based in St. Petersburg and owned by Kremlin-connected businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin -- a new spotlight has shone on the methods Russia has been using to interfere in U.S. elections. By flooding American social-media platforms with bogus ads, propagandistic "news" articles and fake "bot" profiles, the Russians pitted Americans against one another and promoted Trump in 2016 -- and they're doing it again already in the current election cycle. 

So far, the only legislation introduced in Congress to fight such abuse of the internet is the Honest Ads Act (S. 1989), a bipartisan bill that would require platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to maintain public databases of the political ads they carry, including images and information about their buyers, linked organizations, cost, and to whom they were targeted. The bill also would require those platforms to make "all reasonable efforts" to ensure ads are not being purchased by foreign citizens or governments. That mandate is not nearly strong enough, and it doesn't sufficiently account for the numerous loopholes provided by the platforms themselves. Those include less-than-stringent identification rules (numerous forms of ID are accepted, including a piece of mail or a store loyalty card), exemptions for ads that can be disguised as "news" stories or editorials, etc.

For those reasons, the Honest Ads Act may be helpful, but it can only be the beginning of a much more aggressive regime of regulations and bans on digital political advertising. Congress must introduce tough identification rules, and cut off anonymous and semi-anonymous payment methods for advertisers. It should be illegal to broadcast any digital political content anonymously, without the author's true and verified identity being known to the platforms, if not the public. It also should be illegal to buy an ad targeting American consumers without a U.S. bank account.