This bill — the SHIELD Act of 2019 — would combat foreign interference in U.S. elections by closing loopholes that allow foreign spending in U.S. elections, boosting disclosure and transparency requirements, and creating a duty to report illicit offers of campaign assistance from foreign nations.
Duty to Report
This bill would require political campaigns, parties, and political committees (such as PACs and Super PACs) to report attempts by foreign governments, foreign political parties, and their agents to influence our elections. These reports would be made to authorities at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Additionally, this bill requires campaigns to establish compliance mechanisms to ensure that illicit offers of assistance are caught and reported.
Anyone who violates these provisions would be subject to fines of up to $500,00 and/or imprisonment for up to five years. Additionally, anyone who knowingly and willfully conceals or destroys materials relating to a reportable foreign contact would be subject to fines of up to $1 million and/or imprisonment for up to five years.
Online Political Ad Transparency
This bill would make political ads sold online (such as on Facebook, Twitter, and Google) covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite by adding “paid internet or paid digital communications” to the definition of electioneering communication. Such communications would be required to clearly and conspicuously include disclaimers detailing who paid for the communication and provide a means for the recipient of the communication to obtain the remainder of the information with minimal effort. This requirement would apply to paid political ads online made on or after January 1, 2020.
It would also require online platforms to maintain complete records of any requests to purchase qualified political advertisements made by a persons whose aggregate requests on the online platform exceed $500 in a calendar year. These records would also have to be publicly available in a machine-readable format.
Finally, it would require broadcasters, providers of cable or satellite television, and online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that political advertising is not purchased by foreign nationals, whether directly or indirectly.
Closing Foreign Money Loopholes
This bill would strengthen the FEC’s foreign money ban on foriegn nationals making contributions and expenditures in connection with elections by codifying language from an FEC regulation rendering it unlawful for a foreign national to direct, dictate, control, or directly or indirectly participate in the decision making process of any person (including a corporation, labor organization, political committee, or political organization) with regard to such person’s election activity. This includes decision-making about making contributions, donations, expenditures, or disbursements in connection with elections.
This bill would also prohibit foreign nationals from participating in decision-making about contributions or expenditures by corporations, PACs, Super PACs, and other entities. It would also require PACs and super PACs to make annual certifications of compliance before they can make campaign contributions or expenditures. Additionally, this bill would extend an existing prohibition on soliciting contributions or donations from foreign nationals in connection with federal, state, or local elections to also apply to state or local ballot initiatives or referenda. Finally, it would extend an existing FEC prohibition on foreign nationals making expenditures or disbursements for electioneering communications to include digital and broadcast communications promoting, referring to, or opposing specific candidates or espousing a view on an issue of national legislative importance.
The FEC would be required to conduct random audits to determine the incidence of illicit foreign money in each Federal election cycle. No later than 180 days before the end of a federal election cycle, the FEC would then submit a report to Congress detailing the audit’s results and making recommendations to address the presence of any illicit foreign money.
Prohibiting Communication Between Candidates & Foreign Governments
This bill would deem the offering of non-public campaign material to foreign governments and those linked with foreign governments and their agents as an illegal solicitation of support, even in the absence of an agreement or formal collaboration. This would include polling and focus group data and opposition research.
Prohibiting Deceptive Voting Practices
This bill would prohibit anyone from providing false information about voting rules and qualifications for voting, provide mechanisms for disseminating correct information, and establish strong penalties for voter intimidation.
Specifically, would make illegal to impede, hinder, discourage, or prevent another person from voting by knowingly providing false information about the time or place of voting or the qualifications for voting. It would also prohibit:
- Knowingly disseminating false written, electronic, telephonic, or other statements regarding Federal elections within 60 days of an election.
- Intentionally interfering with or hindering others’ voting, registering to vote, or helping another person register to vote or vote in a federal election.
To enforce these provisions, this bill would create criminal penalties for violations, including up to five years in prison for deceptive practices and a monetary penalty of up to $100,000. Additionally, it would create a private right of action for preventive relief by injunction, restraining order or other order.
The Attorney General would be required to issue a correction upon receipt of a credible report of materially false information regarding elections and a determination that state and local election officials failed to clarify and correct the information. To the extent practicable, this information would have to be disseminated by means that would reach the persons to whom the materially false information was communication. The correction could not be designed to favor or disfavor any particular candidate, organization, or political party.Within 180 days of this bill’s enactment, the Attorney General, in consultation with the Election Assistance Commission, State and local election officials, civil rights organizations, voter rights and protection groups, and other interested community organizations would publish written procedures and standards for determining corrective action.