Group of political digital media professionals search for bipartisan solutions to online abuses.

CHICAGO (September 16, 2019) – Responding to an inability of U.S. policymakers to adequately address challenges posed by online campaigning, a bipartisan working group of political consultants and practitioners who specialize in the use of digital media in political campaigns has called for more transparency in political digital advertising.

The statement issued over the signatures of fourteen highly accomplished partisan digital professionals – six from the political left and eight from the political right– calls for making “funding sources of digital political ads on all platforms and systems … transparent.”

The statement also urges policymakers to make “requirements for oversight and disclosure … uniform across all digital advertising platforms and systems.”

Additionally, it addresses the responsibility of practitioners to reject the use of content that incites violence or is “maliciously manufactured to intentionally misrepresent actual events,”and it urges policymakers to focus on transparency measures that “target bad actors” without forcing “unnecessary disclosure of legitimate competitive information.”  

The group was convened May 22nd to 24th by the Project on Political Reform at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy for the purpose of finding areas of common ground across political parties on policy issues and practices pertaining to the use of digital media in political campaigns. The event was co-hosted by the Harris' Center for Survey Methodology, and supported by a grant from Democracy Fund, a bipartisan foundation focusing on democratic norms and institutions.

The statement notes that, to date, American policymakers have been largely unable to address “abusive and dishonest” digital practices “that pose substantial threats to vital democratic norms and institutions.” The signers attribute this failure, in part, to policymakers’ inability to identify reforms that could receive bipartisan support in “today’s highly polarized and contentious political environment.”

The objective of the bipartisan group is to identify and highlight meaningful reforms that could receive substantial support across party lines.

The statement was adopted by 80% of the participants in the group’s initial meeting in May. The UChicago working group hopes to continue its discussions and issue policy recommendations as areas of strong bipartisan agreement can be identified.

Professor William Howell is the academic director of the Project on Political Reform.

“Like other Americans, many political digital professionals of both parties are concerned about abusive digital practices that could erode confidence in elections and violate crucial norms that sustain democracy,” said William Howell, Sydney Stein Professor at Harris and academic director of the Project on Political Reform. “The political practitioners who met at UChicago understand the nuances and potential abuses of digital media better than almost anyone else. By discussing possible remedies across party lines, they can help policymakers identify meaningful changes that can receive broad bipartisan support.”

Read the full statement.

Receive updates on the working group’s progress.

About the Project on Political Reform

The Project on Political Reform investigates the sources of political and government dysfunction and identifies pragmatic solutions. PPR addresses topics such as legislative decision making, lobbying, political accountability, campaign laws and practices, political polarization, erosion of democratic norms, structural incentives influencing candidate and office-holder behavior, and the relationships between governing institutions. PPR focuses primarily on local, state, and federal government in the United States but, at times, may also address governmental dysfunction in other Western democracies.

PPR is nonpartisan and strongly committed to thoughtful, evidence-based policy making without regard to political party or ideology.

About Harris Public Policy

For more than three decades, the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy has been driven by the belief that evidence-based research, not ideology or intuition, is the best guide for public policy. Guided by this exacting perspective, our exceptional community of scholars, students, and more than 3,000 alumni take on the world’s most important problems using the latest tools of social science. As one of the largest graduate professional schools at the University of Chicago, Harris Public Policy offers a full range of degree and executive education programs to empower a new generation of data-driven leaders to create a positive social impact throughout our global society. This is Harris Public Policy: Social Impact, Down to a Science.