Cybersecurity Campaign Aid Approved to Prevent Future Hacking

  • Federal Election Commission gives nod to bipartisan plan
  • Funding idea hatched in the wake of 2016 Russian interference

Presidential and congressional candidates running in 2020 will be able to tap cybersecurity aid provided by a new, privately funded program under an advisory opinion released Wednesday by the Federal Election Commission.

The long-awaited response to a bipartisan proposal will permit federal campaigns and others to accept help to prevent hacking in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The four-member commission unanimously approved the advisory opinion after lengthy negotiations between Democratic and Republican commissioners.

FEC In Negotiations Ahead of Vote on Campaign Cybersecurity Help

The advisory opinion emphasized the foreign cybersecurity threat posed to U.S. campaigns, which was highlighted by Russian hacking of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton the 2016 election. It said the “unusual and exigent circumstances” of this threat justified waiving campaign finance laws preventing candidates from receiving free or reduced-charge services.

The advisory opinion requires monthly public disclosure of all donations received by Defending Digital Campaigns, the Harvard-linked nonprofit set to provide cybersecurity aid. The ruling also bars foreign donations to the organization, which said it is committed to accept donations only from individuals, foundations and public corporations.

The conditions on funding were insisted on by FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, who has repeatedly expressed the need to limit this aid to cyber needs rather than opening the door to allow unlimited corporate donations to federal candidates. A footnote said the FEC’s two Republican commissioners, Caroline Hunter and Matthew Petersen, approved the advisory opinion “but do not condition their approval on these disclosure requirements and funding restrictions.”

A fourth commissioner, Steven Walter, is a political independent who holds a Democratic seat. He has supported Weintraub’s concerns but didn’t comment separately on the advisory opinion.

Weintraub said on Twitter that she was pleased the commissioners could reach consensus on the ruling and that the decision “will get urgently needed cybersecurity aid in the hands of federal campaigns” to protect against foreign and domestic hackers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com