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Bipartisan group of Kansas lawmakers aims to restrict the use of AI in political ads

A stack of campaign mailers.
Hugo Phan
This image shows a stack of political campaign mailers sent to voters in Sedgwick County. Kansas lawmakers want to restrict the use of artificial intelligence in campaign messaging.

The bill was introduced out of fear that someone could use false, AI-generated media to influence the results of an election.

A bill in the Kansas Legislature is aimed at stopping people from using artificial intelligence to create false political attack ads.

The bipartisan bill would prohibit political campaigns from using AI-generated media to create “false representations” of candidates or public officials in advertising and other campaign materials. That includes images, audio and video that have been manipulated with AI to create a realistic but false depiction (often called a “deepfake”) of a candidate, public official or their actions.

At a hearing on the bill last week, Democratic Minority Leader Vic Miller said he wanted to introduce the legislation out of fear that someone could use false, AI-generated media to influence the results of an election.

“This should be a bipartisan approach,” he said. “It’s scary what could happen to one of us, or some of us, if someone plays with this (technology) nefariously.”

AI generators like ChatGPT and Midjourney have become commonplace on the internet in just a few years. Those programs take user-written prompts to generate text or images. Some photo-editing programs, like Adobe Photoshop, also have powerful AI tools that allow users to manipulate existing images.

Media generated with AI is controversial due to its potential to spread misinformation and infringe on copyright and academic integrity. Some celebrities have also been victimized when their likenesses were used to generate realistic but false, sexually explicit media.

Clay Barker, general counsel for the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office, says the deceptive nature of AI can lead to a phenomenon called “liar’s dividend.”

“If I have an embarrassing video about myself (that) gets out there, I can say, ‘Oh, that was just AI,’” he said. “Then people don’t know what to believe, and that’s been termed the ‘post-truth world’ in elections.”

As written, the bill does not seem to prohibit basic photo editing or manipulation done without AI – like editing a photo of a candidate so they appear to be in a different setting – which is often employed in campaign advertisements. The bill also says political advertisers could use AI-generated media as long as they clearly and prominently disclose it within the advertising.

The bill establishes a misdemeanor offense for violating its provisions. Some lawmakers on the House Elections Committee said that’s not an adequate consequence.

“If you do this two days before the election, the damage cannot be retrieved,” Republican Rep. Michael Dodson said. “That’s why I think the punishment ought to be fairly severe for this kind of thing.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Miller and Republican Rep. Pat Proctor, chairman of the House Elections Committee. The legislation will need committee approval to advance to the House.

Daniel Caudill reports on the Kansas Statehouse and government for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can email him at dcaudill@ku.edu.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Daniel Caudill reports on Kansas state government for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service.