Wednesday Q+A With Ann Ravel

The former FEC member discusses Congress’s push to regulate online political ads—and why it might not be enough to prevent foreign meddling.

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Photo: VOA
Media Outlet: National Journal

Ann Ravel spoke to National Journal about why she thinks new legislation mandating increased transparency for online political ads falls short—and revealed her own idea to track foreign digital ad purchases the same way as drug money or terrorism financing.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers released the Honest Ads Act, designed to stop the secret purchase of online political ads, with a specific eye to preventing foreign meddling in elections. The bill would require online platforms such as Facebook and Google to provide “clear and conspicuous” disclaimers on every ad, and mandate that they keep a list of anyone who purchases more than $500 in political ads on their platforms each year. Do you think this bill strikes the right balance?


I think it’s great to begin with. I applaud them for having thought about it and hope that—because it’s relatively mild in terms of what it requires—it may get additional bipartisan support. But it is definitely not going to have a great impact on foreign contributions to political ads or political messages.
There’s no question that there’s room to go further. And if this passes, hopefully it will give momentum to be able to look at the more serious problem, which is the issue of ads that don’t identify themselves as ads, where they are paid for in circuitous manners—either through consultants in the United States, or in other countries.
And it’s no different than the problem that we have with dark money in the United States. You have to have the ability to look beyond who’s just purchasing an ad to find out where money actually came from. And that’s ultimately what we need to do to protect not only our rights to disclosure, but to ensure that the money doesn’t come from foreign sources.

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Ann Ravel is a fellow with New America CA. She previously served as chair of the Federal Election Commission from 2015 to 2017.