FEC poised to approve proposal offering cybersecurity services to campaigns

At a public meeting of the Federal Election Commission today in Washington, D.C., the commissioners discussed two issues related to foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Since September 2018, a bipartisan group called Defending Digital Campaigns has been seeking the FEC’s permission to offer cybersecurity services to federal candidates and party committees, from across the ideological spectrum, at free or reduced rates. The group — whose board of directors includes Robby Mook, who managed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, Matt Rhoades, who managed Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Debora Plunkett, a former National Security Administration official who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations — says it would provide cybersecurity services such as hardware, software, “bootcamp” trainings, and a hotline.

This morning, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, released a new, narrowly tailored compromise proposal that would permit Defending Digital Campaigns to offer such services on a nonpartisan basis, so long as it doesn’t accept any contributions from foreign nationals or provide equipment such as computers that candidates and parties would have purchased “regardless of cybersecurity efforts.”

Republican Commissioner Caroline Hunter said the six-member commission — whose ranks have dwindled to just four commissioners in the wake of two vacancies — appears ready to approve this new compromise version. She suggested the commissioners consider passing it at the next public meeting in two weeks, or even on a “tally vote” in a more expedited fashion, after they have heard back from Defending Digital Campaigns about the new proposal.

Additionally, the FEC commissioners briefly discussed the report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Weintraub announced that she had directed the agency’s in-house lawyers to review the Mueller report to see how the FEC could better combat foreign interference.

“The document is pretty compelling reading,” Weintraub said, adding that she believed that there were some issues raised in the Mueller report “that are squarely in our wheelhouse.”

Added Hunter: “Any foreign interference in our elections is unacceptable … but our jurisdiction is limited.”

“I would hate to give any member of the public false hope,” Hunter continued. “I don’t want the public to think we have more power to stop this abhorrent behavior than we actually do.”

FEC Commissioners Steven Walther and Matthew Petersen likewise echoed that they were eager to review the Mueller report and the assessments from the FEC’s lawyers about what measures the agency could take to combat foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Issue One also recently released a deep-dive into the understaffed and underfunded Federal Election Commission. Read the full report here.

Research Assistant Amisa Ratliff contributed this report.