Rep. Phillips Introduces Firewall Act to Prohibit Foreign Online Spending in U.S. Elections

October 4, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03) introduced the Firewall Act aimed at preventing foreign meddling in U.S. elections. The bill would amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit foreign nationals from paying for online advertisements created to attack or support federal candidates. Current law prevents similar foreign spending on television, radio, satellite and print advertisements, leaving bad actors with an open door to spread malice and misinformation in the burgeoning online political ad market.

“Given the grave nature of events we’re watching unfold in Washington, it is clear that our democracy faces threats from the inside and out,” said Phillips. “Nowhere is that more apparent than in digital political advertising. Americans of all political persuasions are asking us to step up and prevent foreign interference in our elections, and Congress should act swiftly to update our laws and protect our democracy. If we fail to pass the Firewall Act, foreign actors will continue to use online ads to divide and misinform voters, and we will have earned the American people’s distrust in the democratic process.”

Online advertising is on the rise in U.S. political campaigns. According to the Brennan Center, online political ad spending in 2016 was nearly eight times higher than in 2012, topping out at $1.4 billion. The special counsel investigation into interference in the 2016 election found that Russian nationals spent more than $100,000 on digital ads during the campaign, with much of that spending directly attacking or supporting candidates and exacerbating divisions in the American electorate.  While the special counsel’s report only focused on Russian interference, it is unlikely that foreign spending in our elections has been limited only to that country.