Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and several colleagues today introduced the Prevention of Foreign Interference with Elections Act (S.1469), a bill to help combat foreign election interference.
“There’s no question that Russia worked with Americans – unwitting or otherwise – to influence U.S. elections. Even though such activity is already illegal, those laws can and should be stronger” Feinstein said. “This bill not only clarifies that conspiring with foreign nationals to influence U.S. elections is illegal, it closes loopholes that allow foreign nationals to buy ads intended to directly influence elections. Allowing foreign actors to sway our elections is unacceptable and this bill will help ensure that law enforcement has the tools necessary to combat bad actors.”
“Ongoing Russian attacks against our democracy demand that our election laws be fortified,” Blumenthal said. “The Prevention of Foreign Interference with Elections Act makes clear that working with a foreign agent to influence elections is a federal crime. Our bill clarifies existing law to give Americans full confidence that the ads they see online, in print, and on TV have not been put there by a tyrant trying to destabilize our country, but by their fellow citizens who have a common interest in electing representatives who will do what is best for the nation.”
In addition to Senators Feinstein and Blumenthal, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
In January 2017, the U.S. intelligence community issued a report concluding the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation confirmed this. However, there is currently no criminal law that explicitly prohibits foreign actors from interfering in U.S. elections.
The bill introduced today clarifies that it’s a federal crime to conspire with a foreign agent to influence U.S. elections. Anyone who conspires with a foreign national to interfere in an election, either by committing a federal crime or breaking an election law, will be sentenced for up to five years in prison in addition to the sentence for other offenses that were part of the interference.
The bill also takes the following actions:
- Allows the federal government to bring civil enforcement action to stop illegal activity as soon as it is discovered.
- Updates election laws so that foreign nationals are also prohibited from buying digital ads or issue ads. Currently they are only prohibited from buying print, television or radio ads that reference specific candidates.
- Codifies regulations that prohibit providing “substantial assistance” to foreign nationals trying to affect US elections.
- Makes those convicted of this new crime inadmissible into the United States unless they are coming to assist in prosecutions as witnesses or informants.