Of all the Federal Election Commission’s many chronic breakdowns in recent years, its failure to take the slightest action to either stave off or respond to Russian meddling in the 2016 election is the most damaging to American democracy.
The FEC repeatedly considered but never approved straightforward new rules to require internet advertisers to better identify themselves, a move that could have helped deter Russian disinformation on social media. And now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded that the Russian government interfered in the election “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” the FEC remains missing in action.
That the FEC is precisely the gridlocked and ineffectual agency that Congress intended it to be is nothing new. What’s new is that the FEC’s well-documented partisan stalemates have become so routine, and its staff so hollowed-out and demoralized, that the commission has moved from dysfunctional to essentially inoperative. Two new reports, from Issue One and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, portray an agency in shambles, no longer able to function at even the most basic level.
Also new is the nature of the threat facing American elections. Even as President Donald Trump plays down the danger of Russian interference, U.S. national security officials are bracing for a new round of Russian cyber attacks and disinformation in 2020. Mueller’s report disclosed for the first time that, within hours of Trump’s appeal to Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, Russian government hackers compromised election systems in a Florida county.