Timothy Roemer and Zachary Wamp
The report by special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that the “Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systemic fashion.” While they likely had minimal impact on the outcome, the Russians budgeted millions of dollars a month and bought thousands of Facebook ads to divide the country and spread malicious information about our democracy. Meanwhile, Congress and the administration have done nothing to stop them before the next election. The threat is not going away as FBI Director Christopher Wray warned about continued Russian meddling, saying it is a “significant counterintelligence threat.”
These revelations should shake every American to their core, especially our leaders in Congress and the White House. More importantly, it should have brought swift action and bipartisan cooperation from our national security leaders in Washington, just like after the September 11th terrorist attacks. But after two years of dire warnings from top intelligence and national security officials, Congress has unfortunately not stepped up.
Russia is a clear and present danger. While the United States seeks to strengthen democracy around the world, Russia continues attacking and trying to weaken it. If the president will not lead, the legislative branch must. Congress has powers and responsibilities under the Constitution, yet it fails to meet the serious challenges facing our national security.
However, there is a ray of sunshine as Republicans and Democrats set aside their usual partisanship to support the Honest Ads Act, the best first step toward revealing paid and hidden disinformation campaigns on social media platforms. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham along with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar deserve credit for stepping forward at a time when debate on election security legislation is drying up. It is time for their fellow colleagues to put good policy ahead of bad politics.
In the House, Republican Representative Elise Stefanik and Democratic Representative Derek Kilmer cosponsored a companion version of the bill, sending a strong bipartisan message to their leadership and demanding action against foreign enemy interference. These lawmakers understand that the designated legislation would protect the First Amendment rights of citizens to engage in political debate while providing them with the tools they need to root out malicious foreign disinformation campaigns.
Meanwhile, over 100 former lawmakers, governors, and administration officials of both parties have also declared their support for the Honest Ads Act in a powerful letter delivered to Congress. This commitment to national security crosses any sort of partisan and ideological divides. Many of these signers served in a branch of the armed forces, oversaw national security while in Congress, or directed a federal agency charged with preventing domestic and foreign attacks against the United States.
Outside the beltway, there is growing momentum for this bill as Silicon Valley and technology companies show support for it. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft and more of the largest internet platforms in the world also back the Honest Ads Act. “What we are doing is we are going to verify the identity of any advertiser who is running a political or issue related ad,” Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg told senators in his testimony on Capitol Hill last month. “We support the Honest Ads Act.”
We strongly encourage Republicans and Democrats, and bipartisan leadership on both sides of the aisle in Congress, to immediately hold hearings on the Honest Ads Act and other serious election security proposals. Ideally, they will pass this legislation soon to protect our vulnerable electoral software and communications infrastructure.
This is only the first step. While the Honest Ads Act would help modernize our election system and protect us from the type of foreign interference we faced in 2016, the United States must be more dynamic and agile in facing the asymmetrical security challenges on the horizon. We must improve our cybersecurity, find new solutions to emerging threats, and unite behind maintaining high standards for our election system. The oldest democracy in the world should be the strongest and smartest.