An Apple Inc. laptop displays a Facebook Inc. Live feed. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

GOP Senator Seeks Facebook `Full Accounting' on Russia Ad Money

(Bloomberg) -- The Senate Intelligence chairman said he wants "a full accounting" from Facebook Inc. and other social media companies about any foreign money used to manipulate the 2016 U.S. election.

"Now that we’ve opened up this avenue of social media, it’s of great interest to us to get a full accounting from everybody who operates in this space, if in fact foreign money found its way in to finance any of the efforts on social media," Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said Tuesday in Washington.

Facebook said last week it found about $100,000 in ad spending connected to fake accounts probably run from Russia. Facebook and other social-media companies aren’t subject to the regulations on political advertising developed long ago for broadcasters. Officials from Facebook and Twitter Inc. declined to comment Tuesday.

Burr said he wants to ask Facebook and other social media companies if they know of any links to either Donald Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

"That’s always a question we ask of any entity that comes in: ‘Was there a connection to either campaign?’" the chairman said, adding that the panel hasn’t made a final decision on whether to have a hearing.

Burr said it’s "probably more a question of when" than if there will be a hearing with Facebook officials, though he said questions remain about how to proceed.

"Do we limit it to just what Facebook has announced to us?" he said. "Do we reach out broader in the social media world outside of potentially Russian money? Where is our jurisdiction and where would it fall to another committee?"

Burr, who spoke Tuesday in a series of hallway interviews, said he "aspirationally" still hopes to finish his investigation of Russia’s election meddling and possible campaign ties by the end of the year. 

No Choice

"When a company acknowledges that Russian money found its way to finance things that may have influenced the outcome of the election," Burr said, "you don’t have any choice but to consider what the course should be for the investigation."

The top Democrats on the Senate and House Intelligence committees also said Monday that they want more information from Facebook, Twitter and other companies about Russian use of social media during the election.

“We are just at the beginning," the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia told reporters. "I question also whether Facebook has put near the resources they need into getting us all the facts.” Warner said he wants Facebook executives to appear at a public hearing before the committee.

“This is the Wild Wild West. I’m disappointed that Facebook didn’t come forward with this information about the Russians pushing people to anti-immigration rallies," Warner said. "They didn’t think that was relevant. But this was the tip of the iceberg. I think there’s going to be much more.”

The top House Intelligence panel Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, said the committee "certainly has been in discussions with the technology companies, including Facebook" and is seeking additional information.  

‘Troll’ Factory

Warner said Facebook revealed a "troll" factory used in St. Petersburg, Russia, to post on U.S. social media. But the company hasn’t examined Moldova and other countries where there were indications of similar activity, so Facebook and other social media firms need to provide more information, he said.

Twitter hasn’t briefed the Senate committee yet, Warner said.

Outside groups, including the advocacy group Common Cause, filed a complaint with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission last week alleging that the Facebook disclosures mean unknown foreign nationals made campaign ad expenditures in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Schiff said one angle the House committee is pursuing is "whether there was any effort at coordinating with the Trump team" in the targeting of voters through social media and in pushing out fake news stories.

"That is an open question," said Schiff, adding the committee so far hasn’t reached conclusions.