CCP Statement on Russian Purchases of Internet Ads

Alexandria, VA – The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) released the following statement today from former Federal Election Commission and CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith:

“Reports that Russian entities purchased political ads on Facebook have intensified concern about foreign influence in U.S. election campaigns. Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar are drafting legislation in response. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) unanimously agreed to ask the public to comment on potential new rules as well.

“The extent and impact of foreign ad buying is not yet known. A central question so far is whether current requirements for political ads on social media are adequate. Federal law requires disclaimers on paid ads supporting or opposing candidates, including on the internet. There are exemptions for small items, such as pens and bumper stickers, or where providing a disclaimer is impractical. This is why the FEC has not required disclaimers on some small internet ads such as Google search ads. These exemptions balance two key campaign finance principles: allowing speech about candidates and informing voters about who is speaking. Maintaining this complex balancing act is critical to any effort going forward.

“Any new requirements will affect not only foreign nationals, but also the rights of American citizens. Before Congress or the FEC acts, they must first understand what happened, and can happen in the future. A rush to regulate speech and press rights poses serious risks to these First Amendment rights. At the same time, an ill-considered response might also be ineffective.

“Internet freedom has empowered citizen journalists and grassroots organizations as well as large groups. More information is available than ever before to voters. These are great developments. As Congress and the FEC consider new rules, they must avoid damage to this vital outlet for free expression.

“Foreign meddling in U.S. elections is not an issue to take lightly. If foreign governments are attempting to undermine our democracy, the FEC can play only a minor role in our response. The Department of Justice and our intelligence agencies should lead the way.

“We should improve regulations where we can. But we should be wary of responses that restrict the rights of Americans and risk giving hostile actors exactly what they want: a United States that looks a little more like Russia.”