FEC To Craft Rules For Online Political Ads

The Federal Election Commission voted unanimously Thursday to craft new regulations regarding disclaimers for online political ads.

"Foreign interference in U.S. elections is inimical to our nation’s interests and democratic values," the agency stated. "Disclaimers on paid digital and internet-based advertisements are one tool identified as a mechanism for exposing foreign-paid advertisements."

The FEC noted that it has not reviewed online ad disclaimers -- which state who paid for the ad -- since 2011, when it split 3-3 on Facebook's request for an advisory opinion. The social networking service had argued that the text ads then prevalent on its site were too small to require disclaimers.



In 2010, the FEC said in an advisory opinion that Google could run pay-per-click political ads without including disclaimers in the copy, provided that the text displays the URL of the sponsor's site, and that the landing page has a disclaimer.

The agency noted Thursday that much has changed online since 2011. "Advisory opinions, by their very nature, are fact specific, and those addressing technological issues necessarily are limited to the technology in existence at the time," the FEC stated.

The FEC recently heard from thousands of commenters, including Facebook and Google, about online political ad disclaimers. The agency said Thursday that many of those comments "will be helpful in moving forward on this issue."

The FEC's move comes at a time of increased concern over Russian interference in the last presidential election.

Facebook recently disclosed that material created by Russian agents, including at least 3,000 ads, may have reached 146 million users -- 126 million on Facebook and an additional 20 million on Instagram. Google said that the Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency spent $4,700 on ads and also uploaded more than 1,100 videos to YouTube during the last election

FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said in a separate statement that the country was "enmeshed in the most serious campaign-finance crisis in our history."

"The FEC's ability to shatter its usual gridlock and move forward shows the gravity of our current situation," she stated. "What we are seeing now is a direct, substantial, and continuing attack on our democracy by a hostile foreign adversary."

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