February 28, 2018

Assembly Announces Passage of Democracy Protection Act
To Bring Greater Transparency to Digital Political Advertisements

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today announced the Assembly has passed the Democracy Protection Act to help protect the integrity of New York elections by requiring greater transparency for digital political advertisements.

"Social media and digital advertising have drastically changed how we receive political advertisements today," said Speaker Heastie. "The most recent election brought to our attention a serious need to reevaluate how we safeguard our electoral process to ensure the integrity of our democracy."

"New York State law needs to reflect the rapidly changing nature of political campaigns," said Assemblymember Charles Lavine, chair of the Election Law Committee. "The rise of the internet and the subsequent popularity of social media combined with unchecked online political advertising have left voters vulnerable to unscrupulous advertising practices that have serious consequences for voters and our democratic process."

"Our Nation's democracy depends on fair and honest elections," said Assemblymember Kenneth Zebrowski, sponsor of the bill. "Unfortunately, recent elections have been clouded by anonymous negative ads, funded by dark special interest money. This bill will re-establish transparency and give voters the information necessary to know who is behind the flood of ads purchased during a campaign season."

Under federal law, most political advertising on television and radio must disclose the organization or individual who paid for the advertisement. However, the law does not include online political advertisements.

Under the proposal, the definition of "political communication" would be updated to specifically include internet and digital political advertisements and all political communications would be required to disclose who paid for such communication (A.9930, Zebrowski). Failure to comply with the disclosure requirement would result in a civil fine of up to $1,000 or the cost of the communication.

The legislation would also require that a person or entity register as an independent expenditure committee with the state board of elections prior to purchasing an internet or digital ad that otherwise qualifies as an independent expenditure and targets 50 or more people.

The bill would additionally prohibit any foreign national, government, instrumentality or agent from registering as an independent expenditure committee, and provide that upon purchase of an independent expenditure, each TV and radio station and internet platform must require that the independent expenditure committee making such a purchase provide a copy of the registration form filed by the committee with the state board of election. The legislation also provides for a civil fine of up to $1,000 per violation for the failure of a TV or radio station or internet platform to comply with the new requirements.

Under the proposal, online platforms, including social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, would be required to maintain and make available online, for a period of 5 years, a complete record of any purchase of an independent expenditure made by any independent expenditure committee on the platform.

Recent investigations by the FBI, CIA, Congressional Intelligence Committees, and other Federal, State and Independent entities have revealed that Russia launched a highly diversified campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. elections. During the campaign, Russian agents spread political disinformation through social media sites including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and also through the use of paid digital content.