Political Facebook ads show that U.S. election laws have trouble keeping up with digital advertising platforms

In light of recent reports that Facebook told congressional investigators they sold political ads to Russian-tied sources during the 2016 election, Issue One Chief of Policy, Programs and Strategy Meredith McGehee released the following statement:

“Because the Facebook ads are not public, it is currently impossible to determine if the Russian-tied entity, the Internet Research Agency, threaded the needle described by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in their broad prohibition against foreign nationals influencing elections.

The FEC could open an investigation and subpoena the ads, if there was enough evidence of a violation. Similarly, the Department of Justice would come into play if the evidence showed a ‘knowing and willful’ violation.

It is clear that political advertising continues to move onto new, online platforms and away from traditional media, such as broadcast television. Rules governing political advertising on online platforms have been discussed several times by the FEC. In each case, there was backlash led by groups that argued any such move would result in the government regulating speech on the internet. As such, it is an open question as to whether the law can keep up with these new developments.

But if there is a widespread perception that new media are providing effective means for foreign governments to spend money aimed at U.S. elections, there will be a greater willingness to consider new approaches, such as tighter regulations or increased disclosure.”

Unfortunately, the broken-by-design FEC frequently finds itself incapable of making new rules or enforcing current ones in a timely fashion. For that reason, Issue One also supports the bipartisan Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act (H.R. 2034) that aims to overhaul America’s election watchdog by modeling the structure of the FEC to be the same as almost every single independent agency in Washington.”