“How the FEC Turned a Blind Eye to Foreign Meddling”

Ann Ravel for Politico:

I suggested to the commission that the FEC consult with internet and tech experts to discuss how the agency’s current approach may or may not fit with future innovations. Starting this conversation should have been noncontroversial, especially at an agency whose very mission is to inform the public about the sources behind campaign spending.

But my comments were greeted with harassment and death threats stoked by claims by the three Republican commissioners that increased transparency in internet political advertising was censorship. Requiring financial disclosure, they argued, “could threaten the continued development of the internet’s virtual free marketplace of political ideas and democratic debate.” One commissioner went so far as to tell me that even talking about this subject at the commission would itself “chill speech.”

Not only was it taboo to suggest that the FEC adapt to the times, the commission was barely interested in enforcing rules already in place. In one instance, Republican commissioners had blocked enforcement of a law that explicitly prohibits foreign interference in U.S. elections, despite clear evidence that foreign nationals had spent large sums of money to influence a California ballot measure. Next, they blocked attempts to strengthen FEC regulations to protect the integrity of our political process when there is evidence of foreign contributions. This intransigence, in the face of open interference by foreign nationals, might as well have been a giant neon sign announcing to hostile actors worldwide that there would be no consequences for illegally meddling in American elections.

But that was before the 2016 election, before the mounting evidence of Russian disinformation operations designed to disrupt our political process. Surely the FEC has changed its response as new facts have come to light?


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