Sen. Klobuchar Calls for Honest Ads Act Markup ASAP

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has called on Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to schedule an "immediate" markup of her Honest Ads Act, which would mandate disclosures on online political ads similar to those for broadcast and MVPD ads.

That call came in a letter to Blunt Wednesday (Oct. 9) and in the wake of a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report released this week that concluded Russians used social media posts and ads to try and get Donald Trump elected in 2016 and would be trying to meddle in the 2020 election as well, where Klobuchar hopes to be running against the President.

The report said Congress should “examine legislative approaches to ensuring Americans know the sources of online political advertisements," Klobuchar pointed out saying her bill would do just that.

She played up the power of online versus broadcast or cable political advertising: "As the 2020 elections approach, experts estimate that billions will be spent on online political ads and the reach of online platforms far surpasses that of broadcast, satellite, and TV (Sic). The largest internet platform has over 2110 million American users. The largest cable provider only has 22 million subscribers. By requiring the same rules across all advertising platforms, we can limit foreign attempts to influence our elections, increase transparency in political advertising and promote greater accountability," she told Blunt.

The Honest Ads Act, which was proposed in the wake of that 2016 meddling and introduced two years ago in tandem with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, would create online political ad public files (Facebook has already voluntarily created one of those) and bar foreign entities from ad buys to influence elections.

Specifically it would amend the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) to include paid internet and digital ads in the definition of electioneering communications, which would trigger disclosure requirements; require digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all those electioneering communications by anyone or groups who spends more than $500 for political ads on their platform; require the file to include ad targets, views generated, rates and contact info; and require online platforms to "ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate."

A sweeping election and campaign spending reform bill, which incorporated the Honest Ads Act, passed the Democratic-controlled House March 8 on a party line vote of 234 to 193, but has not gotten anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Klobuchar hopes the bipartisan report can light a fire under the Republicans. Another of the bill's co-sponsors is one for President Trump's staunchest defended, Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). 

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.