McConnell Skeptical of Mandatory Disclosures for Online Political Ads

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R_Ky. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt Saturday about the idea of enacting laws requiring disclosures for political ads on social media.

“I’m a little skeptical of these disclosure-type proposals that are floating around, which strikes me would mostly penalize American citizens trying to use the internet and to advertise,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview on MSNBC.

McConnell is known for his expansive view of the First Amendment when it comes to protecting political speech, including campaign contributions and advertising.

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in introducing the “Honest Ads Act” last month that would impose new disclosure requirements.

Technology companies were on Capitol Hill for oversight hearings during the past week, explaining that hundreds of millions of people were exposed to Russian-directed political advertising and content about the 2016 elections.

That McConnell and McCain could be on opposite sides of a political spending question should come as no surprise, given their long history of diverging views on the topic.

McConnell also signaled that Russians should not be able to have the free speech protections to which Americans are entitled by the Constitution.

“In any event, the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to foreigners,” McConnell said.

McConnell said that he thought the chief executives of social media companies should come to Capitol Hill to testify themselves. Company lawyers have tended to be the representatives offering testimony, but he did not call for any special commission.

“I don’t know whether we need some special entity to do it or not. We have committees here,” he said. “It certainly would help if the CEOs were willing to testify, but I think it’s a big, big subject with a lot of national-security implications, and a lot of First Amendment concerns as well.”