House Democrats Pass Election Security Bill While Senate Remains on Sidelines

October 25, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON —House Democrats approved legislation this week to better protect the country’s elections from foreign interference, the third major bill the chamber has passed this year addressing problems that arose in the 2016 presidential election.

The 227-181 vote on Wednesday came months after special counsel Robert Mueller detailed numerous attempts by Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 contest and numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian nationals.

Though Mueller concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to establish that a criminal conspiracy had occurred, House Democrats want there to be no doubt about what’s illegal in the future.

The Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy, or SHIELD Act, requires candidates and political committees notify the FBI and other authorities if a foreign power offers campaign help.

It also tightens restrictions on campaign spending by foreign nationals and requires more transparency in political ads on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

It also specifically prohibits campaigns from exchanging campaign-related information with foreign governments and their agents.

“Foreign interests shouldn’t be able to influence American elections, period,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., chairman of the New Democrat Coalition.

The coalition endorsed the bill and several provisions introduced by its members.

“With countless intelligence assessments confirming vulnerabilities in the American election system, and another election just over a year away, it’s vital that both sides of the aisle come together to take real action to fix the loopholes and protect our elections from foreign interference,” Kilmer said.

“I’m glad to see the inclusion of the NDC-endorsed Honest Ads Act and the PAID AD Act, as well as other New Dem-led bills, included in this legislation. Congress should take action to further protect our democracy without delay,” he added.

Among the provisions added by the coalition were H.R. 2592, The Honest Ads Act, introduced by Kilmer himself, which would improve the transparency of online political advertisements.

They also included:

  • H.R. 3873, PAID AD Act, introduced by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., which would prohibit foreign entities from purchasing political ads to influence American elections;
  • H.R. 4612, Firewall Act, introduced by Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., which would amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit foreign nationals from paying for online advertisements created to attack or support federal candidates;
  • H.R. 3236, Component of Anti-Collusion Act, introduced by Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., which would define offering non-public campaign materials, such as internal polling data, to a foreign power, or agent of a foreign power, as an illegal solicitation of support;
  • H.R. 3281, Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, introduced by Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va., which would impose penalties on those who knowingly spread false information or use abusive or deceptive practices to manipulate or influence a federal election; and
  • Rep. Tom Suozzi’s FEC Post-Election Audit would require an FEC audit after every federal election to determine if foreign money was spent.

The SHIELD Act’s chief sponsor, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said it would close loopholes that allow dishonest behavior, increase disclosure and transparency requirements, and ensure that anyone who engages with foreign actors to influence the outcome of an election will be held accountable by law.

“Most Americans know that foreign governments have no business interfering in our elections,” said Lofgren, who chairs the House Administration Committee, in a written statement. “Instead, the Trump campaign and White House have welcomed and repeatedly solicited foreign assistance for his political activities. This behavior is unacceptable, and it is telling that the White House has gone to great lengths to hide it from the American people.

“The SHIELD Act will protect our elections from foreign interference by closing loopholes that allow dishonest behavior, increasing disclosure and transparency requirements, and ensuring that individuals engaging in conduct with foreign actors intending to influence the outcome of our elections will be held accountable by law,” she said.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches the president’s desk, saying it was redundant, overly broad and unenforceable.

The House approved a separate bill in June that would require paper ballots in federal elections and authorize $775 million in grants over the next two years to help states secure their voting systems.

Lawmakers also approved a bill in March aimed at reducing the role of big money in politics, ensuring fair elections and strengthening ethics standards. The measure would make it easier for people to register and vote, tighten election security and require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

Republicans called the bill a power grab that amounts to a federal takeover of elections and could cost billions of dollars. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the proposal was dead on arrival in the Senate.

McConnell has also refused to bring up a stand-alone bill on election security, though he supported an effort to send $250 million in additional election security funds to states to shore up their systems ahead of 2020.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. lamented Republicans intransigence on the issue.

“With today’s passage of the SHIELD Act,” Hoyer said in a statement released Wednesday “House Republicans had yet another opportunity to join House Democrats in voting to protect our country against foreign interference. It is shameful that they refused to do so, just like they have refused to answer the pressing question facing the country: is it acceptable for a president to encourage foreign interference in our elections?

“The answer is no. Having already passed H.R. 1 and the SAFE Act, House Democrats will continue taking every opportunity to ensure that Russia and other foreign entities cannot meddle in our democracy,” he said.

“President Trump has already made clear to the American people that he believes there is nothing wrong with electoral candidates accepting help from foreign adversaries, which is shameful,” Hoyer said. “If Sen. McConnell agrees with him, he can continue blocking House legislation to confront this challenge, but if the Republican-controlled Senate believes our democracy ought to be safeguarded, I urge them to take action on the SHIELD Act and other House-passed bills to protect Americans’ votes.”

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