DAVID GREENE, HOST:
There are currently five separate investigations looking into whether Russia interfered in last year's presidential election and also whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Republican Richard Burr, is leading one. He said his committee has not reached any conclusion about collusion, but one thing, he said, is certain.
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RICHARD BURR: The Russian intelligence service is determined, clever, and I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously as we move into this November's election and as we move into preparation for the 2018 election.
GREENE: Now, one concern, of course, is Russia buying political ads on digital platforms like Facebook. And Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota plans to introduce legislation soon to address this. If a person or a group spends more than $10,000 on political ads on a big digital site, the company would have to reveal what audience was being targeted, also the contract information for the purchaser. And Senator Klobuchar is with us.
Thanks for coming back, Senator. We appreciate it.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, David. It's great to be on. And this is such a serious issue right now when you think the 2018 election is only 397 days away. I knew you'd like to hear that...
GREENE: Thank you for reminding me.
KLOBUCHAR: ...Of course.
GREENE: Exactly (laughter).
KLOBUCHAR: But you think about - our whole democracy is formed on this simple idea that we wanted to be self-governing, right?
KLOBUCHAR: And it - we didn't want to have foreign governments influencing us. Well, now we've learned that $100,000 was spent in rubles for ads during the 2016 election, and we haven't seen those ads. We really want to see them - the public does. Intelligence officials have seen them. But we think they should be released to the public. And what our bill does - Senator Warner and I are working on this together. And...
GREENE: Your Democratic colleague Mark Warner, yeah.
KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. And so what it does - and we're looking at different thresholds that are actually lower than the one you gave. But what it does is it says, when these things happen, you've got to register them. You have to put them out publicly when you buy a political ad. No, this is not about people posting cat videos if the cat talks about Donald Trump or Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi (laughter).
GREENE: You're not worried about the cat videos.
KLOBUCHAR: No. What this is about is paid political advertising, just like broadcast or radio has. So if I buy, as a campaign, a TV ad - or I buy a radio ad, then it has to be publicly registered - when the ad aired, who bought it, how much they bought.
GREENE: Well, I'm glad - I don't mean to interrupt you, but I'm really glad you brought up broadcasters because are you basically saying that Facebook should be treated like a broadcaster? Is that where we are?
KLOBUCHAR: They should be treated that way for paid ads - right? - paid ads - not for just content, people posting - not for news, but for paid ads. And that's exactly what broadcasters do.
GREENE: So this won't take care of the problem...
KLOBUCHAR: Go ahead.
GREENE: This won't take care of the problem with, like, media posts from bots in Russia, if we're just talking about that. So it's a separate thing.
KLOBUCHAR: OK, let's go to that.
GREENE: OK (laughter).
KLOBUCHAR: There's three things in the bill. One is to put them on the even playing field, which I think every American wants to know with this new technology when Facebook or Twitter or any of these online platforms can actually target them because they know their likes or they know what they're focused on - that that new technology isn't used by foreign governments or others to try to influence an election and dupe them, No. 1.
No. 2, it requires these platforms to maintain a public file. So you know what's in these ads. You know how - when they're microtargeted, you don't even know that they exist sometimes - and digital copy of the ad.
And No. 3 - and this gets to your question - that the online platforms have to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities aren't purchasing political ads to interfere in our election - so in other words, that these foreign individuals and entities aren't purchasing them. And I'd like to add one more thing. Remember, these companies are selling ads. They're making money off of this.
GREENE: Sure. But isn't - well, let me start with this. Who is going to enforce this? I mean, if you're treating them like a broadcaster, is the FCC going to do this? Are you going to create some new agency? Who's going to be...
KLOBUCHAR: No, this is the Federal Election Commission, which is exactly where it should be. There are FCC rules involved, but it's the Federal Election Committee that has to put in place the rules when this passes. And if we don't do this - do you know how much money was spent last year on online ads, David, politically?
GREENE: You tell me.
KLOBUCHAR: $1.4 billion. And it...
GREENE: And you think the FEC is - I mean...
KLOBUCHAR: All hidden, all hidden.
GREENE: But is the FEC, I mean, equipped to do this? Would there be a - need to be a lot more money for new jobs for people to be monitoring this stuff and enforcing it?
KLOBUCHAR: Remember, it's the companies that are making money off this that are basically going to have to put in place these safeguards to safeguard our democracy. And then if they don't do it and complaints are being made, just like everything else, as the money is gravitating into these online ads, they have to be regulated. So I don't foresee some massive bureaucracy. I just see people doing the same thing that they do right now when complaints are brought to them about broadcast.
GREENE: You know, I'm glad you brought up democracy because I wonder if you're worried at all that this is a slippery slope if you start regulating parts of the Internet. I mean, the Internet and freedom of the Internet is - it feels so democratic, in many ways.
KLOBUCHAR: Yeah, that's what - I was just waiting for that question...
KLOBUCHAR: ...Because of course, we are not regulating news postings. We are not regulating when you post your kid's birthday party or you decide you're mad about the energy policy, about the Trump administration and you do a video yourself and you put it up. None of that will be regulated. These are paid ads - paid ads, just like we see on TV when you see the disclaimer, I paid for this message. That's what we're talking about, paid ads. But there are 1.4 billion.
A lot of things you see on Facebook or Twitter or Google that maybe you don't think are paid - they are paid ads. And I think that people have a right to know - when we have elections where so much dark money is being spent undercover - that we have a right to know what's being spent. And we, as citizens, have a right to know that we're not being duped.
GREENE: Did you say - I want to make sure I understand you correctly. Did you say that some of the financial burden for paying for this new enforcement would be coming from the companies?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, of course. They are going to have to - and, you know, I come from the state of Target. If they can find one shoe in...
GREENE: (Laughter) Minnesota, we should say.
KLOBUCHAR: OK, yeah, OK - if they can find, because of a SKU number, some shoe that's in Hawaii, you know, I think that these guys who are able in other elections - in Germany - to not have political ads - they have to - that because of their law in Germany that say you can't have Nazi political ads, right?
They are able to, in the French election, because they have different laws, go through and make sure that certain things that violate the law aren't on there. They are able to do this in other countries. Why, in the own country that they are based in, can't they do this? To me, with all of the technology and all of the brilliance we have at these companies, they can do this. They can make sure that paid political ads, which is a subsection of the postings they have - that they don't violate our law. And all that we're asking them to do is register those political ads.
GREENE: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, thanks so much.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.