A new way to safeguard America against threats to our elections

Trevor Potter
Nov 1, 2017
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Trevor Potter, President of the Campaign Legal Center, wrote an Op-Ed for The Hill in support of the Honest Ads Act and enhanced disclosure.

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This week, Congress is holding hearings with Google, Facebook and Twitter about social media influence in the 2016 election. These hearings should help clarify how foreign agents infiltrated our elections. The hearings should also shed light on the fact that our outdated election laws allowed this infiltration to go undetected and undeterred.

We learned after the election that the Russian government paid for thousands of political ads on Facebook, which reached 126 million users. Bipartisan legislation introduced this month would take meaningful steps to safeguard the security and sovereignty of our elections against foreign influence. The Honest Ads Act would shine light on precisely the kinds of ads Russia used in the last couple years, informing the public about their sources and content.

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Transparency measures provided by the Honest Ads Act would help improve awareness of the messages being used to influence voters and public opinion, and allow the press and public to respond to covert propaganda. Many of the Russian-sponsored ads run in the 2016 election were illegal. Foreign nationals, including foreign governments, are prohibited from spending any money in connection with U.S. elections. But unless we know the source of ads, they are difficult to regulate, and it is difficult to prevent foreign governments and front groups from breaking the law.

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The public has a powerful and compelling interest in knowing who is trying to influence their vote on the platforms they turn to for information about elections. This is a time for political courage and for Republicans to pick country over party. We have every reason to think Russia — or Iran, North Korea or any other foreign adversary with an interest in disrupting our elections — will intervene in our elections in the 2018 and beyond. As a starting point, we must provide the public with basic information of the nature of political ads they see online. The accepted legitimacy of our election process is the foundation of our democracy. Threats to its legitimacy must be priority one for Congress.

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