Democrats in both the House and the Senate want to put a ban on political advertisements on social media that are paid for by foreign companies, sending a letter to the FEC asking them to consider new rules about online advertising. The letter came two weeks after Facebook revealed to Congress that a Russian account had paid for 3,000 ads between June 2015 and May 2017.
In the letter, they urge the FEC to take “immediate steps” to fixing what they see is a critical issue:
We encourage the Federal Election Commission to take immediate steps to understand the threats posed to our democratic process by foreign influenced internet and social media advertisement, and to promulgate new guidance on how advertisement platforms can better prevent foreign nationals from illicitly spending in future U.S. elections.
Representative John Sarbanes, the current chair of the House Democrats’ Democracy Reform Task Force, argued that the letter was an “opportunity for the FEC to step up and show what it’s made of, to show its mettle,” and that “this could be the finest hour to respond to this threat to American democracy.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had stronger words when she told CNN that Russian companies are not “above the law and it is illegal for foreign countries to undermine or participate in our elections, so buying those Facebook ads is illegal.”
The letter has been signed by 16 Democratic Senators, including Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, and four Democratic Representatives. There are no Republican signatories on the letter.
However, there are already concerns on the left that nobody is doing enough at the moment regarding the advertisements. Chris Nolan, a Democratic political ad executive, told Axios that he was worried that the potential response from the FEC and any legislation passed by Congress would not be sufficient to tackle the “threat”:
The problem with the FEC and potential regulation talk from members of Congress is that they aren’t going far enough and it seems like they’re taking a TV filter and applying it to ad spends on digital.
It remains to be seen whether the FEC, who is comprised of three Republicans, one Independent and one Democrat will even follow up on the letter at all. The FEC has been asked to respond by October 4.