The FEC and Cyber Security
Since 2016 presidential race, we have seen a growing movement to unearth and eliminate any political interference in our elections by foreign nationals, most notably Russia.
Russian hackers who infiltrated the Democratic National Committee’s database and private email servers of both Democrats and Republicans was only the beginning. The digital attacks expanded to bot-generated political ad campaigns dispersed among social media and more. This cyber-war on democracy has been calculatedly discreet. You can find a timeline of the attacks here. I suspect you’ll be surprised at how many there have been. I was.
In efforts to combat a faceless yet relentless enemy, Defending Digital Campaigns, Inc. petitioned the Federal Election Commission with an offer of free or low-cost cyber security for political candidates running for office.
DDC is the brainchild of Robby Mook, 2016 campaign manager of Hillary Clinton; Matt Rhoades, 2016 campaign manager of Mitt Romney; and Deborah Plunkett, former Director of Information Assurance at the National Security Administration. The organization is an offshoot of Mook and Rhoades’s collaboration at Harvard’s Belfer Center on the Defending Digital Democracy Project, or D3P. In 2018, Mook, Rhoades, and Plunkett petitioned the FEC for permission to offer their campaign services.
The obstacle with the company’s offer stems from policies restricting corporations from contributing to candidates/parties in support, or opposition.
In the FEC petition, DDC argues that their services are neutral. They are offering security products and services to any candidate polling nationally at 5% or congressional candidates that qualify for the general election ballot, regardless of party or political affiliation. FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub raised concerns about creating a “loophole” in their current ban on corporate contributions. Not only that, but the Chair is warry of why two experienced practitioners who happened to be victims of the cyber security breaches of 2016 would offer their work for little to no cost (C&E).
One can’t help but wonder how benign such a generous donation is, given the contributors’ respective political histories.
Mook and Rhoades claim that because of their experiences with cyber terrorism, DDC aims to keep American digital campaigns safe from attack rather than seek any distinct political gain as is suspected with their contribution. A brief overview of first-quarter filings revealed a scant investment, if any, in cyber security for political campaigns (Slate).
With the 2020 election looming, a policy decision of this caliber is something to keep in mind. If we do nothing, nothing will change. If we do not consider new alternatives, the status quo will continue. So I urge the FEC to approve the DDC petition. Monitor them. Require reporting to assure its neutrality. But don’t sit and do nothing.