Press Releases

U.S. House Passes Spanberger’s Amendment to Strengthen Disclosure Requirements on Foreign-Based Online Political Advertisements

The Congresswoman’s Amendment Was Included as Part of a Major Election Security Packaged Aimed at Cracking Down on Foreign Interference, Strengthening Reporting Requirements

Washington, October 23, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today voted with a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass legislation that would strengthen efforts to combat and prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections. The legislation includes her amendment to increase transparency regarding online political advertisements purchased by foreign actors.

According to a new report published by the University of Oxford, the number of countries engaged in disinformation campaigns more than doubled to 70 in the last two years. Additionally, at least seven countries have deployed disinformation on social media to influence a foreign country. These numbers are expected to grow as the United States prepares for the 2020 Presidential election.

By strengthening disclosure requirements on online political advertising, Spanberger’s amendment to the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act would give the American people additional tools to understand these foreign influence campaigns. Specifically, her legislation would require online platforms to include information about whether a buyer is acting as the agent of a foreign government or foreign political party. Additionally, her amendment would require the identity of these foreign entities to be publicly disclosed.

Spanberger’s amendment is endorsed by End Citizens United.

“From her first day in office and throughout her career, Rep. Spanberger has defended the integrity of our democracy and security of our country,” said Tiffany Muller, President of End Citizens United. “Her amendment to the SHIELD Act will require more accountability of online platforms by requiring them to record whether political ads are being purchased on the orders of foreign agents.”

On the floor of the U.S. House earlier today, Spanberger spoke in support of her amendment to improve the transparency of foreign-based online political advertisements.

Click here to watch a full video of Spanberger’s speech. A full transcript of her remarks is provided below:

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Today, the House is discussing and debating how we can safeguard the integrity of our elections—the bedrock of our democracy. How do we protect our electoral systems from foreign threats, and how do we prevent foreign influence over our electorate?

As we stand here today, the number of countries engaged in active campaigns to mislead the electorate—the American people—continues to grow.

According to a new report from the University of Oxford, the number of countries engaged in disinformation campaigns has more than doubled in the last two years. Additionally, at least seven countries have used their intelligence or military apparatuses to deploy disinformation on social media to influence a foreign country and its people.

As a former intelligence officer, I recognize the risks that these potential attacks—yes, attacks—pose as we head into next year’s federal, state, and local elections.

There is a legitimate fear across our intelligence community that foreign governments will build on Russia’s extensive information warfare strategy.

Foreign actors—from Russia to China to North Korea to Iran—are eager to undermine the foundations of our democracy.

Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Facebook disclosed that it found more than $100,000-worth of ads on divisive issues purchased by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin. And the potential return on investment is extremely high.

As we approach 2020, they have every reason to follow this playbook again and to strengthen their disinformation operations.

In the context of these threats, we need to take a serious look at how we build resiliency against foreign interference on social media platforms. Digital advertising can be far less-expensive and time-intensive as a tool for propaganda—and it can spread disinformation, confusion, hate, and division at an alarming rate.

The SHIELD Act takes real steps to require large online platforms to keep records of qualified political advertisements. And I’d like to thank my colleagues for their hard work on this critical issue.

The SHIELD Act would require online companies to keep publicly available records about online digital political advertisements. It would require information about the contents of a specific advertisement, its target audience, and the issue it addresses.

Additionally, it would require disclosure information about those purchasing the advertisement.

Disclosure sheds light on corruption. It unmasks influence. And it stops our democracy from becoming vulnerable to foreign governments, non-state actors, and shadowy influence groups constantly working to distract and mislead the American people.

My amendment would strengthen this disclosure.

My amendment would add that online platforms need to include a statement when the person purchasing a political advertisement is acting as the agent of a foreign principal.

Not only would it include language making clear that they’re acting on behalf of a foreign entity, but it would require the online platform to identify the foreign principal involved. That principal could be a foreign government, a foreign political party, or a non-state actor.

Fundamentally, my amendment to the SHIELD Act would put the power back in the hands of the American people. It would help address a critical, underlying question—who is in charge of deciding American elections? Is it those abroad, working to divide and influence the American people? Or is it the American people themselves?

By requiring online records of purchase requests that include public information on the foreign principal behind these advertisements, the American people will be able to see clearly who is attempting to influence their decisions.

As Congress acts today to restore the trust of those we serve in our system of government, my amendment would strengthen our efforts to prevent the spread of foreign influence in our democratic system.

I urge my colleagues to support my amendment to H.R. 4617 to  increase transparency in online advertisements—something that should not be controversial.

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In addition to the increased transparency standards required under Spanberger’s amendment, the SHIELD Act would :

  • Create a duty to report illicit offers of campaign assistance from foreign governments and their agents,
  • Prohibit the dissemination of false information about voting roles and qualifications ahead of U.S. elections,
  • Close loopholes that allow foreign nationals and foreign governments to spend in U.S. elections, and
  • Restrict the exchange of campaign information between candidates and foreign governments and their agents.

BACKGROUND

Spanberger’s amendment builds on her efforts to crack down on foreign actors attempting to influence U.S. elections through online political advertising. Earlier this month, Spanberger cosponsored a bipartisan bill that would require online political advertisements to follow the same transparency and disclosure standards as political ads on television, radio, and satellite platforms.

Earlier this year, she helped pass the For the People Act, (H.R. 1), which would limit the unmitigated political power of special interests and lobbyists, protect and expand the right to vote, and restore ethics and accountability to the federal government and public servants.

The For the People Act includes an amendment Spanberger introduced and led to prevent undisclosed foreign influence in the political system. Click here to watch her full speech regarding this amendment.

Spanberger also serves as member of the bipartisan Task Force Sentry, which is focused on finding legislation that can deter foreign aggression in elections, keep foreign money out of U.S. campaign funding, and establish mechanisms to deter and prevent foreign disinformation campaigns.

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