Facebook's providing of data on millions to Obama could violate campaign finance laws
Hans A. von Spakovsky:
Controversy continues to swirl around how the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained personal data from over 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge and used it to target ads to individuals in an effort to help Donald Trump be elected president in 2016.So far Facebook has not apologized for this apparent breach which gave Obama an unfair advantage that his campaign actually bragged about. The liberals don't seem to have their hair on fire about this operation.
But a more serious case of apparent misconduct involves Facebook data going to a different presidential campaign – this time in 2012. In this case, which is getting far less attention, Facebook reportedly voluntarily provided data on millions of its users to the re-election campaign of President Obama.
If true, such action by Facebook may constitute a major violation of federal campaign finance law as an illegal corporate campaign contribution. The matter should be investigated by the Federal Election Commission – an agency I am quite familiar with, because I served as one of its commissioners from 2006 to 2007. The commission enforces campaign finance laws for congressional and presidential elections.
A federal law bans corporations from making “direct or indirect” contributions to federal candidates. That ban extends beyond cash contributions to “any services, or anything of value.” In other words, corporations cannot provide federal candidates with free services of any kind. Under the Federal Election Commission’s regulations, “anything of value” includes any “in-kind contribution.”
So if Facebook gave the Obama campaign free access to this type of data when it normally does not do so for other entities – or usually charges for such access – then Facebook would appear to have violated the federal ban on in-kind contributions by a corporation. And the Obama campaign may have violated the law by accepting such a corporate contribution.