Democrats in Congress are once again grossly misguided in their attempts to prevent foreign interference in US elections.
Their latest legislation targeting online advertising is misleadingly titled “The Honest Ads Act”. Not only would it harmfully stifle American free speech, but it would accomplish close to nothing in stopping foreign meddling.
Three former Chairmen of the Federal Election Commission - Bradley A. Smith, Lee E. Goodman, and Michael E. Toner - all agree: “it would harm First Amendment rights.”
First, this bill is unnecessary…
The FEC already requires online advertisers to identify themselves on ads that support or oppose candidates. The Honest Ads Act would needlessly burden online platforms with heavy and unconstitutional regulation and would put the ecosystem of online political speech at risk. Advertisers and platforms would be liable for collecting and providing this information.
Second, similar legislation at the state level has proven to strip away political free speech…
When states have implemented similar restrictions, the liability has scared platforms out of the political ad-business entirely. Maryland and Washington state created extensive regulations for online political ads in 2018.
Google simply stopped accepting state and local political ads in those states, and Facebook wouldn’t take political ads in Washington.
Third, it won’t even stop foreign election interference…
The Senate Intelligence Committee found that “paid advertisements were not key” to Russian influence efforts. Despite spending $1.25 million a month, the Russian outfit at the center of the scandal spent only $100,000 over two years on Facebook ads. The majority of those were not election ads, so they wouldn’t be regulated by the Honest Ads Act.
In closing, the former FEC Chairmen make a strong case against supporting this “needless” legislation.
Campaign-finance law isn’t the tool to prevent foreign meddling in U.S. elections. Adversaries won’t be scared off by civil penalties. This is a job for diplomatic, national-security and counterintelligence agencies.
The Honest Ads Act is a needless sacrifice of First Amendment rights, not a serious effort to secure elections.