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Senators to introduce bipartisan bill to boost internet ad transparency

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) will introduce a bipartisan bill Thursday intended to force digital companies to be more transparent about their advertising sales. McCain signed on to the Democrats' bill Wednesday.

The effort was sparked by the revelation that Facebook sold more than $100,000 worth of ads to a Kremlin-linked Russian company during the 2016 election; Google later revealed it had sold $4,700 worth of similar ads. Both companies were able to avoid disclosure rules mandated by the Federal Election Commission because political activity on the internet has been largely exempt from the regulations placed on traditional media advertising since 2006, as part of the so-called internet exemption rule.

The senators' bill would require internet companies to disclose information about ad purchasers to the FEC. But the tech companies are not thrilled with the move, and are roping in lawyers and lobbyists in an effort to shape the regulations to be more company-friendly. "In a two-front war, tech companies are targeting an election commission rule-making process that was restarted last month and a legislative effort in the Senate," The New York Times wrote.

In a statement, the senators said the opacity of online ad sources left U.S. elections susceptible to foreign threats, like Russia's meddling in 2016. The bill would "prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections," Klobuchar and Warner wrote, "by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite."