In-Depth: Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced this bill to expand the scope of the prohibition on political activity by foreign nationals:
“Our intelligence community has been clear—foreign powers continue to interfere in our elections and they’ll keep doing so unless we stop them. Strengthening our campaign finance laws to prohibit paid political advertisements by foreign nationals and foreign governments is necessary to ensure American elections are free and fair.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, adds:
“Russia’s massive and unprecedented interference in our last presidential election revealed a number of vulnerabilities in our election system. And now that the Kremlin’s playbook is out in the open, we can expect more of the same in 2020, from Russia or elsewhere. We need to get serious about protecting our elections from foreign interference. This bill is just one commonsense measure we should adopt to strengthen our democracy against foreign intervention.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), sponsor of this bill’s House companion as well as an amendment to H.R. 1, the For the People Act, that included this legislation, says:
“I'm proud to introduce the bipartisan PAID AD Act, which would make it illegal for foreign entities to purchase ads on TV or social media to influence our elections — something we now know happened extensively in Michigan in 2016. Stopping foreign entities from influencing U.S. elections is not a partisan issue. As a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official, I believe it's an issue of national security and preserving our democracy, and I'm proud to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in introducing this bill.”
In a July 2, 2019 op-ed, The Washington Post’s editorial board raised concerns about whether it’s truly fair — or reasonable — to bar foreign governments from buying issue ads:
“[B]arring issue ads altogether treads tricky free expression territory, not least because of the difficulty of defining what qualifies as a topic of sufficient political importance. True, foreign governments and lobbyists do not have First Amendment rights, but these rules would not only affect scheming Russians. Our North American neighbors, for example, might want to educate the American electorate about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade. And the United States has its own interests in funding the promotion of democracy abroad. What message would it send to other countries to bar them from advancing their views here as we advance ours there?”
The Post editorial board notes that Sen. Klobuchar’s Honest Ads Act, which would increase disclosure requirements for both domestic and foreign actors, is a “gentler way to address [issue] ads to ensure that Americans know who paid to persuade them.” However, weighing the Honest Ad Act against the PAID AD Act, the editorial board doesn’t express support for either piece of legislation. Instead, it concludes that Congress must “ask whether disclosure is enough — and if it is not, whether the threat of further foreign interference is enough to accept tamping down on countries’ ability to communicate their message beyond their borders.” With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) refusal to bring election security bills up for votes in mind, they add that McConnell “must” let Congress debate this issue.
This legislation has two Democratic Senate cosponsors. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), has seven bipartisan House cosponsors, including six Democrats and one Republican. Neither bill has received a committee vote.
Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced bipartisan companion legislation as an amendment to H.R. 1, the For the People Act, in the House. Their amendment was included in the bill, passing by a voice vote. The For the People Act then passed the House by a 234-193 party-line vote, but has yet to receive a Senate vote.
It’s unlikely that the For the People Act will receive a Senate vote, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called it a "power grab" and declared that the "sprawling 622-page doorstop is never going to become law."
Of Note: The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) currently prohibits foreign nationals from contributing directly to campaigns, making independent expenditures, or buying electioneering communications. However, the definition of “electioneering communication” is narrow and creates a loophole by which foreign nationals may lawfully exert influence in the American electoral system.
In his report, Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm,” created accounts on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, to post content that reached about 126 million Americans from 2013-2018. The New York Times reported that Russian ad purchases particularly targeted battleground states.
Both Sens. Klobuchar and Warner have attempted to force floor votes on other election security bills they’ve introduced in the current Congress. However, their efforts have been blocked by Senate Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has consistently refused to allow floor votes on election security measures, citing concerns around the potential for these measures to federalize elections.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / bee32)