Democrats urge FEC to reconsider rules for foreign election advertising

• Sep 20, 2017

Kathryn Watson, CBS News

Democrats are urging the Federal Election Commission to consider new guidance to prevent foreign entities from buying political ads targeting U.S. election, in the wake of the report that Russians purchased $100,000 in ads during the 2016 presidential election.

Twenty Democratic House and Senate members, in a Tuesday letter to FEC Chairman Steven Walther, asked him to take "immediate" steps to understand how foreigners use social media advertising and determine how to better prevent them from "illicitly spending" in future elections. 

The revelation that Russians purchased Facebook ads to push out messages during the election has only fueled concern about foreign election meddling, as the House and Senate intelligence committees and the special counsel move forward with their investigations into Russian interference and possible ties to Trump associates. 

Facebook has turned over materials pertinent to the matter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office.

"What are the standards that can prevent this from happening in the future?" Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, who wrote the letter along with Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, told CBS News. 

It's illegal for foreign individuals, companies or governments to directly or indirectly spend funds in U.S. elections, but the letter's signatories think more protections are needed in the age of social media. The letter calls foreign political activity, "a direct assault on federal election law and the integrity of our elections."

"Social media platforms offer the ability to target millions of users based upon a wealth of highly-detailed information," the letter says. "As we have seen, the low cost of reaching these users equips hostile foreign actors with a powerful new tool for disruption of our democratic process. Therefore, it is incumbent that the commission take immediate action to preserve the integrity of our election law and our elections."

Sarbanes said the rapidly-approaching 2018 midterm elections bring added urgency to the problem. 

"We need to do this and we need to do it quickly, because even though we feel like we just came out of an election, there's another one bearing down on us," Sarbanes said. 

The letter asks the FEC to respond by Oct. 4 with an action plan and timeline for such guidelines, and any suggestions for Congress as to what it can do legislatively. It also asks how "existing loopholes" can be eliminated in campaign disclosure laws and regulations that allow organizations to avoid disclosing political spending, and what best practices advertisement platforms can use to prevent such illegal campaign activity, among other things.

Sarbanes said Republicans were approached about signing the letter, and some expressed interest, but that interest didn't materialize into signatures. 

"But I think the message went out from leadership on the Republican side, because the word Russia is in the mix here some place that they should stay away from it," Sarbanes said.


You can find the whole article by Kathryn Watson here.

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