FEC chairwoman taking a fresh crack at regulating online political ads
The chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission has a plan for increasing transparency and combatting disinformation in the fast-expanding world of online political advertising.
With the 2020 campaign starting to accelerate, and ample evidence of Russian hacking in the last presidential campaign revealed by special counsel Robert Mueller, FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub is hoping to jumpstart a debate about regulating Internet campaigns that stalled in her agency last year and looks stymied in Congress as well.
The Weintraub proposal, which the commission will debate Thursday, would require any form of paid online political advertising to include a clearly displayed disclaimer about who is paying for the ad.
Last year, the FEC considered but never voted on a similar measure on Internet communication disclaimers. It received 314,000 public comments – most of them supportive. The requirements in these proposals are akin to the rules that currently exist for print, television and radio paid political advertising.
Toughening the rules for online ads is a "small but necessary" step toward greater transparency, Weintraub wrote in her proposal, and so "the FEC needs to do its part to combat these threats and make it harder for foreign adversaries to interfere in our elections with their influence operations."
The 2018 midterm campaign saw a 260 percent increase in digital ads from the 2014 midterm. Spending on these ads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites also jumped, reaching about $900 million.
But a major roadblock to new regulation has been the rate of vacancies on the FEC. Two of the six seats have been vacant since President Trump took office, and the Senate has never taken up the one nominee Trump has put forward. With only four commissioners, everyone has to be in agreement for anything to secure the required majority – and unanimity is hard to come by because two of the commissioners are Republicans, Weintraub is a Democrat and the fourth member is an independent who generally sides with her.
Since the 2016 election, Congress has also been considering legislation that would bring the same sort of disclosure to online ads – but none of the bills has yet been put to a vote.
This spring, Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, normally one of Trump's most loyal GOP allies, introduced Senate legislation. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled it will never see the light of day.
Prospects look slight better in the Democratic House, where companion legislation by Democrat Derek Kilmer of Washington has been cosponsored 15 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Both measures are known as the Honest Ads Act and would require those who pay to post political ads online to reveal their identities
The legislation cites Russia's influence over the 2016 election through political ad buying as a major reason this regulation is necessary.
Remember that tweet exchange in May between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the one where they discussed bipartisan legislation to ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists?
To recap: Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her support for legislation banning the practice in light of a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which found that nearly 60 percent of lawmakers who recently left Congress had found jobs with lobbying firms. Cruz tweeted back, extending an invitation to work on such a bill. Ocasio-Cortez responded, "Let's make a deal."
The news cycle being what it is, it's easy to forget how the media jumped on the idea of the Texas Republican and the New York Democrat finding common ground on a government ethics proposal. Since then, we've collectively moved on — but not everyone forgot.
The government reform group RepresentUs recently drafted a petition asking Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez to follow through on their idea, gathering more than 8,000 signatures.
But in general, young adults have a lot more trust issues than their elders
Sixty percent of young adults in the United States believe other people "can't be trusted," according to a recent Pew Research survey, which found that younger Americans were far more likely than older adults to distrust both institutions and other people. But adults of all ages did agree on one thing: They all lack confidence in elected leaders.
While united in a lack of confidence, the cohorts disagreed on whether that's a major problem. The study found that young adults (ages 18-29) were less likely than older Americans to believe that poor confidence in the federal government, the inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together, and the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups were "very big problems."