The Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Thursday approved a request from a private company to provide discounted cybersecurity services to political campaigns, saying it did not violate campaign finance rules. The decision came in response to a request from Area 1 Security, a California-based company, to offer cybersecurity services to federal political candidates and political committees at discounted rates. The FEC, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance for presidential and congressional elections, decided the arrangement did not violate campaign contribution rules because the company offers similar discounted services to nonpolitical clients as well. The decision allows the company to sell anti-phishing services to federal candidates and political committees for as little as $1,337 per year, according to the FEC. The agency wrote that “doing so would be in the ordinary course of Area 1’s business and on terms and conditions that apply to similarly situated non-political clients.”Full Article: Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services | TheHill.
National: FEC allows nonprofit to provide free cybersecurity services to campaigns | Shannon Vavra/CyberScoop
The Federal Election Commission has decided that a nonprofit spinoff of Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy Project may provide free and low-cost cybersecurity services to political campaigns without violating campaign finance laws, given the fact that there is a “highly unusual and serious threat” posed to U.S. elections by foreign adversaries. The driving force behind the FEC’s advisory opinion, which FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub issued Tuesday, is the fact that there is a “demonstrated, currently enhanced threat of foreign cyberattacks against party and candidate committees,” she writes in the advisory. The nonprofit, Defending Digital Campaigns, has political campaign veterans Matt Rhoades and Robby Mook among its board members, as well as former National Security Agency executive Debora Plunkett. In the ruling, Weintraub notes the FEC’s decision is partly due to the other efforts by the government, primarily to expose and prosecute foreign adversaries, that she indicates have not done enough to protect campaigns and political parties.Full Article: FEC allows nonprofit to provide free cybersecurity services to campaigns.
The partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, is affecting the Federal Election Commission’s ability to enforce campaign finance laws and investigate possible infractions, Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee wrote to the FEC on Wednesday. Ninety percent of the agency’s 300 employees have been furloughed, forcing it to skip its first scheduled meeting of the year, according to the letter, which was first reported by The Washington Post.Full Article: Democrats seek FEC assurance on campaign finance oversight during shutdown - POLITICO.
The Federal Election Commission has launched a preliminary investigation into whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions to the National Rifle Association that were intended to benefit the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, according to people who were notified of the probe. The inquiry stems in part from a complaint from a liberal advocacy group, the American Democracy Legal Fund, which asked the FEC to look into media reports about links between the rifle association and Russian entities, including a banker with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. A spokesman for the NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, which together contributed $30 million to Trump’s presidential campaign, declined to comment on the FEC’s probe.Full Article: FEC probes whether NRA got illegal Russian donations - POLITICO.
The Democratic Party is directing millions of extra dollars to its House candidates this fall by way of a legal loophole that has helped them bypass the typical limits on coordinated spending between parties and candidates — all while linking some vulnerable Republicans to Donald Trump. Typically, Federal Election Commission regulations limit parties to just $48,100 of spending in direct coordination with most House candidates. But under a decade-old FEC precedent, candidates who word their TV ads a certain way — including references to generic “Democrats” and “Republicans” as well as specific candidates — can split the cost of those ads with their party, even if that means blowing past the normal coordinated spending caps. To date, more than a dozen Democratic challengers are benefiting from such “hybrid” advertising, getting extra hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The technique has been a small but consistent part of Democratic strategy in recent years, but new legal guidance has also allowed Democrats to share costs on ads linking their opponents to Trump on policy.Full Article: Democrats use loophole to pump millions into fight for the House - POLITICO.
Justice Ginsburg’s recent press comments have been noted mostly for her openly expressed disdain for the Trump candidacy. Less surprising in the remarks was the Justice’s “impossible dream” that Citizens United be overturned. She has said this before, and since she dissented in that case, there is not much news here, unless anyone still had doubts that for this Justice, the killing off of that decision is a priority. The comment was reported at the same time as the Complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by Representative Ted Lieu and others who intend to set into motion the reconsideration the Justice is hoping for. And so it invites an appraisal of its prospects for accomplishing the Justice Ginsburg’s “impossible dream.” As my colleague Marc Elias has pointed out, the FEC cannot succeed; this is a lost cause. When the Complaint fails, it may do little more than unnecessarily promote the belief that CU is here to stay. It is not clear why this is the best legal maneuver, or the most effective exercise in public communications, in the attack on Speechnow and Citizens United.Full Article: Citizens United and the "Impossible Dream" -.
The FEC has once again deadlocked on an enforcement case and left an important question dangerously open. Months ago, the FEC could do nothing useful with a case about the use of LLCs to make contributions. Now it is inviting trouble, and not for the first time, with a case about how hard a corporation may press its employees to support the employer’s political program. In the recent case, the FEC was forced by the usual 3-3 division to dismiss a complaint that a company pressured employees to make political contributions to its PAC and favored candidates. The question before the agency was whether to investigate. There were reasons, including internal company documents. In one of them, the company advised managers that “we have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts.” There was a press report recounting the experience of unnamed employees with coercive practices, and one employee put her complaint on the public record as part of a wrongful termination action.Full Article: Deadlock and Ominous Uncertainty at the FEC -.
Voting Blogs: “Desperate” at the FEC, Part II: The Risks of Unintended Consequences | More Soft Money Hard Law
A few questions and comments have passed back and forth on the election law listserv about a procedural question raised by the Ravel-Weintraub petition to the FEC for a rulemaking: would the two Commissioners apparently filing this petition in a private capacity have to recuse themselves from voting on it? But there is also a question, not so far discussed, of other consequences that could attach to their decision to raise certain issues in this form. Potential recusal is part, not all, of the problematic course that this initiative could take. The Commissioners wish to have the Commission “clarify” two issues they claim to have been thrown into some doubt by Citizens United. They are concerned that there is some uncertainty about “whether and to what extent” foreign nationals and foreign owned or controlled US subsidiaries can be involved in making corporate independent expenditures. A second clarification is intended to leave no doubt that employers, now prohibited from coercing their employees into making PAC contributions or facilitating candidate fundraising, may also not direct or pressure them into supporting independent expenditures.Full Article: "Desperate" at the FEC, Part II: The Risks of Unintended Consequences -.
By petitioning their own agency for a rulemaking, Commissioners Weintraub and Ravel have found a novel way to charge their colleagues with fecklessness. Call it a populist gesture: they are stepping out of their roles as administrators and issuing their appeal from the outside, as members of the general public. They may have done all they could or intended to do with this Petition, which was to publicize their grievances. Or they may have sought to add to public understanding of the grounds of this grievance-to enlighten and inform, and not only turn up the volume of their complaint. A first point—minor but worth considering– is whether this agency needs another quirky procedural controversy. What does it mean for two Commissioners, one of whom is agency Chair, to dispense with their formal roles and petition as citizens, filing a petition on plain paper without their titles and just the Commission’s street address? Will they recuse themselves from voting on the petition as Commissioners? Will they testify before themselves?Full Article: "Desperate" at the FEC -.
Voting Blogs: More Conflict at the FEC: The Question of Partisanship and the Problem of Finger-Pointing | More Soft Money Hard Law
A dispute over whether the FEC is tilting its investigations against conservatives or Republicans is mostly a waste of energy. Commissioner Goodman got this started at a Commission hearing and has been rebuked by Commissioner Ravel. The Republicans profess to be outraged; the Democrats announce that this outrage has rendered them speechless. Once again there is here, in the midst of this clamor, an important question– the uses and misuses of the agency’s enforcement process—that is being misdirected into another round of finger-pointing about bad faith and improper motive.Full Article: More Conflict at the FEC: The Question of Partisanship and the Problem of Finger-Pointing -.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published a sobering interview with the head of the Federal Election Commission, who confirmed that she had largely given up on the agency playing a meaningful role in restraining fundraising and spending abuses in the 2016 campaign. The commissioners are deadlocked, FEC chair Ann Ravel said, because Republican members of the commission think the FEC should exercise less robust oversight, meaning the agency has become “worse than dysfunctional” at a time when outside money is poised to play an even larger role than it did in the last two cycles.Full Article: Get ready for a lot more ‘dark money’ in politics - The Washington Post.
Voting Blogs: FEC Conflicts: the Choices of the Chair and the Responsibility for Non-Enforcement | More Soft Money Hard Law
In op-eds and interviews, FEC Chair Ravel has chosen a particular course for her one-year term as the agency’s leader. She is making use of the pulpit she now commands to express her view that the law is going unenforced. It is question of Republican intransigence, she argues, and the consequences are “destructive to the political process.” Commissioner Weintraub has advanced the same position. Republicans inside and outside the FEC have strenuously objected to this conclusion and the manner in which she has expressed it. And they have added to their complaint the allegation that, in a “listening tour” on dark money and a forum organized on the role of women in politics, the Chair has acted outside her mandate and invited the appearance of partisan bias.Full Article: FEC Conflicts: the Choices of the Chair and the Responsibility for Non-Enforcement -.
In a ruling that could reverberate nationwide, a federal judge has struck down Ohio’s law barring people from knowingly or recklessly making false statements about candidates in a case that the U.S. Supreme Court said needed to be heard. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled Thursday that Ohio’s law, in effect since 1995, is unconstitutional and prohibited the Ohio Elections Commission and its members from enforcing the law. The judge said in his ruling that the answer to false statements in politics is “not to force silence, but to encourage truthful speech in response, and to let the voters, not the government, decide what the political truth is. Ohio’s false-statements laws do not accomplish this, and the court is not empowered to re-write the statutes; that is the job of the Legislature,” Black wrote. The Supreme Court in June found unanimously that an anti-abortion group should be able to challenge the law, in a case that grew out of a 2010 congressional race. The Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group, had contended that the Ohio statute violated free speech rights and chilled a wide variety of political speech.Full Article: Judge strikes down Ohio ban on political lies | Al Jazeera America.
Critics of campaign finance enforcement, or the lack of it, continue to be infuriated by the FEC’s record of deadlocks in major cases, and they are further troubled by the obstacles to judicial review. When complainants stymied by deadlock appeal to the courts, they must still overcome the “deference” generally granted to the agency’s expertise, except where the law is clear or the agency is acting arbitrarily. In these cases, the courts review the agency’s action by examining the stated position of the Commissioners voting against enforcement. This is the so-called “controlling group” of Commissioners—the ones whose refusal to authorize enforcement controlled the outcome. Two FEC Commissioners, Ann Ravel and Ellen Weintraub, now argue that this is all wrong, and have called for the courts to reconsider the process by which deadlock decisions are reviewed. They want an end to the “controlling group” analysis; the courts, the Commissioners contend, should review deadlocks on a de novo basis. So if the FEC dismisses a complaint because the Commissioners cannot agree on what sort of an organization constitutes a regulated “political committee,” the court would take it from there—disregarding the Commissioners’ disagreement and proceeding to judge the issue from scratch.Full Article: FEC Deadlocks and the Role of the Courts -.