Three members of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) are resisting a push to step up the agency’s efforts to counter foreign threats to U.S. elections, saying there’s no need to depart from normal procedures.
The go-slow approach taken by the three commissioners, all Republican appointees, comes amid growing concern that the U.S. must do more to protect our voting systems or risk a repeat of the Russian cyberattacks that compromised the last election.
In a memo released last month, FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, the lone Democratic appointee at the agency, urged it to “respond forcefully” to the Russian attack, calling it an “all-hands-on-deck moment for our democracy.”
Weintraub recommended that the FEC receive closed-door briefings from the Justice Department and other government agencies probing Russian interference; that it tighten rules barring foreign corporations from spending on US elections; and that it consider creating a special task force to examine the issue, among other steps.
But in a joint statement issued Thursday in connection with a public meeting held by the agency, Weintraub’s three colleagues suggested there was no particular reason for alarm.
“We believe that this agency’s enforcement process is the proper mechanism for addressing any allegations about foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election,” wrote Commissioners Lee Goodman, Caroline Hunter, and Matthew Petersen. “The enforcement process must be conducted in an impartial and deliberative manner, free of prejudgment, bias, or politicization.”
Making new rules around foreign spending, the three wrote, “would be premature and counter-productive.”
The standoff is in line with the FEC’s recent history, in which for around a decade, the agency’s Republican-appointed members have tended to be reluctant to support strict enforcement of campaign finance rules, often rendering the FEC toothless.
But the three commissioners’ unwillingness to act comes amid growing concern from a range of independent experts about the vulnerability of American elections to foreign interference, after intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government launched cyberattacks on US voting systems.
“Deciding to do nothing more than we are now [will] allow foreign manipulation of our country by governments that wish us harm” Richard Clarke and Robert Knake, cyber-security advisers to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, wrote Thursday.
The White House has been rocked lately by revelations that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met last year with a lawyer connected to the Russian government in order to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. has said he ultimately received nothing of value.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is expected to reintroduce legislation this week that would increase disclosure requirements for political money, potentially making it easier to root out foreign spending.