By: Tiffany Muller, President and Executive Director of End Citizens United
Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian operative intent on interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is a bombshell of a revelation that hits the highest levels of the Trump campaign.
A meeting between a representative working on behalf of the Russian government and top Trump campaign brass paints a startling picture of what collusion to tilt the scales in Trump’s favor might look like.
It also reminds us that there are loopholes the size of the Kremlin in our electoral system, and hostile countries like Russia can easily take advantage of them. Countries can use these loopholes to spend unlimited amounts of money, in secret, to influence the elections.
Ongoing investigations into Russia’s meddling, alleged of collusion with the Trump campaign, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump himself bring troubling information almost daily. Each report erodes Americans’ confidence in our democracy, and justifiably so.
But Congress can act now to begin to restore the people’s faith in their government and the electoral process. It can put in place safeguards and shut the loopholes we already know exist by erecting barriers to prevent foreign money from influencing our elections.
According to intelligence agencies, the Russians spent money on a campaign to influence our opinions and votes, including state-funded media, paid social media, paid internet trolls and paid hackers.
Recent reports revealed that Russian agents bought ads on Facebook to disseminate propaganda, influence public opinion, and undermine our democratic government.
This news spotlights just some of the ways hostile foreign governments can use their money to illegally influence our elections.
Although current law bars individual foreign nationals from personally contributing to federal campaigns, foreign political spending can still take place. American-registered corporations that are foreign-owned, foreign-controlled, or foreign-influenced can serve as conduits for foreign spending, all thanks to the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision.
When the Supreme Court gave corporations the same rights as real people to spend money on politics in Citizens United, it created a loophole in our system of campaign finance. Corporations registered in America can be bought, controlled, or influenced by foreign corporations and foreign nationals.
This means foreign powers have an easy loophole to pour money into every American election.
Yet, Congress has done nothing to stop it.
Congress has a duty to protect the fundamental integrity of our elections and ensure we have a government that reflects the will and interests of the American people. And Americans deserve to have faith that free and fair elections, a fundamental tenet of our democracy, are untainted by foreign interference.
As the investigations will continue to uncover more about the role Russia played in the 2016 election, there’s no doubt that any number of reforms will be necessary to secure our democracy.
They will surely include stronger transparency and disclosure requirements.
Members of Congress who have opposed reforms to undo the damage from Citizens United have some soul-searching to do.
In this moment of truth, they have to decide whether giving a handful of their mega-donors outsized influence in our elections is worth the risk of giving foreign governments easy backdoor access that lets them twist American democracy to their will.
They should start by fixing the most obvious loophole of all.
Without delay, Congress should change the campaign finance law that allows foreign-owned, foreign-controlled, and foreign-influenced corporations to funnel unlimited cash into our elections. It would cut off many of the ways that a country like Russia can spend money to meddle in our politics.
Congress can, and must, act now to close major loopholes that leave our democracy vulnerable to foreign adversaries.
We urge Democrats and Republicans alike to put country first, and to join us in this fight to keep our elections free.
Tiffany Muller is the president and executive director of End Citizens United, a campaign finance reform group dedicated to overturning Citizens United and ending the use of unlimited and undisclosed spending in elections.