by Congressman Derek Kilmer
Last week, cable news carried live the testimony of Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, before the House and Senate. The news anchors dissected his every move: “Did he really take a sip of water like that?” While the theatrics might have made for compelling television, Congress did nothing to actually address the underlying problems in our elections.
For example, Congress did not vote on The Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill I introduced to shine a light on the murky world of online political advertising. It would require internet companies that host political ads to tell us who bought them. We already have these requirements for television and radio. My colleague Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, and I introduced this bill in the House in October. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota and John McCain, R-Arizona, introduced it in the Senate.
Passing The Honest Ads Act is a no-brainer. Americans ought to know who’s paying for the political ads that show up in their newsfeeds. Even Zuckerberg supports it. In fact, Facebook announced it will voluntarily follow many of the steps the bill requires even if Congress fails to act. Twitter and Microsoft endorsed the Honest Ads Act, too.
The internet is bigger than Facebook and Twitter and, in America, transparency ought to be the law.
Beyond that, if Congress is serious about limiting the influence foreign actors and deep-pocketed special interests exert in America’s political system, it’s time to bring some other bills up for a vote as well.
For example, Congress should pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would strengthen political disclosure rules so Americans know exactly what group or person is donating to the candidates asking for their vote.
It could also pass the bipartisan EPIC Act, a bill I wrote that would prohibit foreign donors from cheating the system by using nonprofit organizations to donate to American political campaigns.
After Watergate, the Federal Election Commission was established to serve as a referee to blow the whistle on political candidates and interest groups that cheat the system. If we’re serious about protecting the integrity of America’s elections, it’s time to get the referee back on the field.
The president should fill critical vacancies at the FEC so it has what it needs to do its job this November. Congress could also make the FEC more effective by passing a bill I wrote with my fellow co-chair of the Bipartisan Working Group, Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), called the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act. The bill would restructure the FEC to give it some teeth and break the near-constant deadlock the group’s current structure creates.
Even gridlocked, the FEC can issue reports. In the 2,000-plus page funding bill Congress passed last month, I added some text that requires the FEC to show how it is enforcing the election laws that make it illegal for foreign countries to spend money in American elections. Reports like these may seem inconsequential, but they are the first step in taking legislative action.
To protect our democracy, Congress should address America’s cyber vulnerabilities too. According to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice, 43 states still use voting machines that are more than a decade old. Like any piece of outdated technology, these machines are vulnerable to hacking and malfunction.
Because state and local officials organize elections, Congress should create new resources to help the states protect their election equipment from cyber threats. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the Major General Tim Lowenberg National Guard Cyber Defenders Act. It would create a Cyber National Guard — a team of experts in every state that would, among other things, work with state and local leaders to secure critical state-run cyber-infrastructure — everything from voting machines to our public utility grids.
This is just a start. From reducing the power of special interests to unwinding the harmful Citizens United court decision, there’s plenty more to do to reduce the role of money in politics.
What’s clear, though, is this: Hearings aren’t enough.
Congress must act now and protect America’s democracy from foreign actors and special interests.
November is coming fast.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District.