Campaign Finance, Disclosure Reform Bill Moves to Senate

A Senate version of the For the People Act, backed by the Democrats, has been introduced, and whether it perishes from the Hill is up to the Republican majority.

The sweeping election and campaign spending reform bill, which passed the Democratic-controlled House March 8 on a party line vote of 234 to 193, is not expected to make it through that Republican-controlled Senate.

But if the bill did pass, it would require enhanced campaign ad disclosures on TV and radio, as well as the Internet, which is being added as a full-fledged campaign speech outlet in need of such enhanced disclosure.

The bill incorporates the Honest Ads Act (H.R. 4077) provisions that require digital platforms to maintain a public database of political ads purchase requests of more than $500 and prevents foreign nationals from purchasing such ads directly or indirectly, though the latter could be challenging.

Related: FEC Proposes New 'Net Political Ad Disclosure Rules

Among many other things, the bill requires minimum lengths for ad disclosures and updates references to "television" to "video format" and "radio to "audio format" so it is tech-neutral.

There are obligations for advertisers as well as Web sites.

"An online platform shall maintain, and make available for online public inspection in machine readable format, a complete record of any request to purchase on such online platform a qualified political advertisement which is made by a person whose aggregate requests to purchase qualified political advertisements on such online platform during the calendar year exceeds $500," the bill says.

Related: Facebook Faces Hill Ire Over Political Transparency Issue

And advertisers are responsible for making sure the platforms have that info. "Any person who requests to purchase a qualified political advertisement on an online platform shall provide the online platform with such information as is necessary for the online platform to comply with the requirements of subparagraph."

"The For the People Act responds to the public's overwhelming demand for fundamental and far-reaching reforms to our corrupt political system," said Public Citizen.

A form e-mail to Multichannel News from the office of former senator and Vice President and likely future presidential candidate Joe Biden signaled the bill's passage was a big issue for him.  

[Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans in the Senate say it’s dead in the water. That's because they’re betting on the millions of Americans who support this reform not speaking up," he said. "Let’s show them that’s a bad bet to make." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.