Daily Report for Executives provides in-depth coverage of unfolding legislative, regulatory, and judicial news from the nation’s capital, the states, and around the world. This daily news service...
The Federal Election Commission voted unanimously to jump-start a rulemaking process focused on disclosure requirements for online ads, following the revelation of Russian-linked political ads on Facebook.
The vote, at the end of a lengthy commission meeting Sept. 14, was a possible breakthrough for the FEC. In the months following the first reports that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to support President Donald Trump, Republican and Democratic commissioners have been deeply divided over whether new rules may be needed to protect U.S. campaigns from foreign influence.
Foreign money has long been outlawed in U.S. elections. The FEC and others have struggled, however, to determine whether Russian actions in the last presidential campaign violated existing rules and whether new rules should be considered.
Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic FEC commissioner, has pushed the commission to consider new rules to protect future elections. She called the FEC’s latest vote to reopen a long-dormant rulemaking, which could beef up disclaimer requirements for online political ads, a “baby step in the right direction.”
The FEC voted at the meeting to reopen for 30 days a public comment period on a rulemaking notice originally published by the FEC in 2011 (REG 2011-02) regarding online ad disclaimers.
The 5-0 vote was unusual because the commissioners have been divided for years, along party and ideological lines, regarding whether disclosure rules for spending on all types of campaign messages should strengthened. In earlier action at the same meeting, for example, the commissioners deadlocked along party lines regarding an advisory opinion request from a pro-Trump political action committees. The committees asked whether they could send messages on Twitter without having a disclaimer on their Twitter profile pages.
The FEC’s three Republicans voted to grant the request (AO 2017-05) from the Great America PAC and Committee to Defend the President, while the two commissioners holding Democratic seats voted to deny the PACs’ request. The votes of at least four commissioners are required for any ruling by the six-member FEC. One Democratic seat on the FEC is vacant.
In other action at the meeting, the FEC commissioners approved an advisory opinion (AO 2017-06) allowing a pair of entrepreneurs, Eli Stein and Jeremy Gottlieb, to market a new app that would let users round up the change from purchases and contribute that amount to certain Democratic congressional candidates.
The watchdog group Campaign Legal Center had said approving the opinion could could grant too much power to a private company to steer contributions to favored candidates.
The original rulemaking on political ad disclaimers was initiated after the FEC considered advisory opinions requested by Google Inc. in 2010 and Facebook Inc. in 2011. The requests were aimed at exempting online ads from some or all of the requirements applied to political ads broadcast on television or radio or published in print. The companies argued their online ads were too small or otherwise unsuitable to carry disclosure messages stating who paid for them.
In looking again at possible new rules in this area, the FEC commissioners indicated they want to assess the current state of technology regarding how political ad sponsors can be disclosed, as well as look at whether and how disclosure is being accomplished in the real world.
Republican FEC Commissioner Matthew Petersen said during the Sept. 14 meeting that the FEC adopted a regulation in 2006 that provided broad waivers from campaign finance rules for political activity on the internet. This provided “regulatory space” for the development of online political activity, he said, while the internet over the last decade has “overtaken everything” as a medium for fund raising and political messaging.
Weintraub said she wants the FEC to hold a public hearing after the new comment period to examine these issues. She said she hoped representatives of Facebook, Twitter, Google and others involved in social media and internet operations would come in to the FEC explore possible new rules to inform the public about sponsors of online political ads.
Facebook opposed new disclaimer requirements in 2011, saying in a comment letter that its ads shouldn’t be required to have links to a landing page that would disclose an ad’s sponsor.
In its advisory opinion requested that year, Facebook asked the FEC to apply the “small items” and “impracticability” exceptions to its ads. The company was referring to long-standing disclaimer exemptions in campaign finance law for such items as pins, bumper stickers, and skywriting.
Facebook hasn’t said whether its position on disclaimer requirements for online ads has changed since 2011.
The company said in a recent blog post that an internal probe found the company had sold thousands political ads in 2016 linked to Russia. Facebook has refused to publicly release the ads, making it difficult to know whether they contained any disclaimers stating who paid for the messages.
In addition to responding to the FEC, Facebook and Twitter are facing demands from Congress for more information about Russian use of social media during the 2016 election, Bloomberg News has reported.
The top two members of Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking Democrat Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) told reporters Facebook was likely to be called in for a public hearing before the committee.
To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)