In-Depth: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced this bill to help combat foreign election interference:
“There’s no question that Russia worked with Americans – unwitting or otherwise – to influence U.S. elections. Even though such activity is already illegal, those laws can and should be stronger. This bill not only clarifies that conspiring with foreign nationals to influence U.S. elections is illegal, it closes loopholes that allow foreign nationals to buy ads intended to directly influence elections. Allowing foreign actors to sway our elections is unacceptable and this bill will help ensure that law enforcement has the tools necessary to combat bad actors.”
After President Donald Trump said in June 2019 that he would accept a foreign adversary’s assistance in an election, Sen. Feinstein said the president’s statement underscored the need for this bill:
“President Trump’s comments that he would accept help from Russia or another foreign adversary to win reelection are outrageous. The law is very clear in this area. ‘It shall be unlawful for a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value … in connection with a federal, state or local election (52 USC 30121).’ Providing opposition research, as the president calls it, is a valuable contribution to a campaign. It’s comments like this that show why the bill I introduced last month, the Prevention of Foreign Interference with Elections Act, is so important and deserves a hearing and a vote. The bill makes crystal clear that working with foreign nationals to influence U.S. elections is an illegal act. It also closes loopholes that let foreign nationals buy online campaign ads in order to influence U.S. elections. We must not let foreign powers influence our elections. Our bill makes that clear and strengthens the law to ensure it won’t happen again.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) adds:
“Ongoing Russian attacks against our democracy demand that our election laws be fortified. The Prevention of Foreign Interference with Elections Act makes clear that working with a foreign agent to influence elections is a federal crime. Our bill clarifies existing law to give Americans full confidence that the ads they see online, in print, and on TV have not been put there by a tyrant trying to destabilize our country, but by their fellow citizens who have a common interest in electing representatives who will do what is best for the nation.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has championed this bill along with three others addressing election security. The other bills Sen. Schumer has expressed support for are:
- A revised version of the Election Security Act tracking with House-passed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN);
- The DETER Act, sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); and
- DASKA, sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
In contrast to Sen. Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to bring election security legislation to the Senate floor for votes. Similarly, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has argued that it’s time for the U.S. to “turn the page” on the 2016 election, and it cannot do so if it dwells on the topics of collusion or election interference. At a July press conference, McCathy said:
“It is time that America turns the page. It is time for America to move forward. The Democrats have to stop wasting time and trying to have a do over of the 2016 presidential election. For more than two years Democrats have obsessed about the Muller investigation, going as far as falsely accusing that they had evidence of collusion, which we found not to be true today. What we heard today only helped to reinforce the facts that there is no collusion and there is no obstruction.”
Observing the partisan divide on election security issues, Inside Cybersecurity’s Charlie Mitchell expresses pessimism about this legislation’s odds of passage. He writes, “it seems to be getting increasingly difficult to view anything election-security related through a nonpartisan lens.”
This legislation has 11 Democratic cosponsors.
Of Note: In January 2017, the U.S. intelligence community issued a report concluding that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This was confirmed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and subsequent report. The special counsel also warned that the Russians will be back in 2020 and said “much more needs to be done” to counter foreign influence in U.S. elections.
There is currently no criminal law explicitly prohibiting foreign actors from interfering in U.S. elections.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / cmannphoto)