The Federal Election Commission’s Ellen Weintraub is on a mission — but thanks to party politics, she says, it’s far from accomplished.
Weintraub, a Democrat who joined the agency in 2002, has been pushing for her group to respond to reports of foreign meddling in U.S. elections, laying out a six-point program for how the commission might do so.
“The mere allegation that foreign interference may have occurred shakes the faith of Americans in our democracy,” Weintraub wrote in the memorandum.
But despite hundreds upon hundreds of emails from the public pleading with the FEC to take a stand against outside tampering, Weintraub hit a wall.
“I put a bunch of proposals in front of my colleagues, and you know, they just kept coming up with excuses why they were not willing to do much of anything,” Weintraub said in a phone interview following the FEC’s most recent meeting.
“Then the Republicans put out a statement at the end of the meeting, which just really showed what a charade the entire meeting was,” she said. “While we went back and forth at the meeting, they had already written up a statement saying, ‘We’re not going to do anything, and here’s why.’”
GOP commissioners said the FEC should mainly rely on its power to enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act to keep foreign influence out of U.S. voting.
“We must resist any efforts to politicize or compromise the integrity of this agency’s enforcement process or the investigations of other agencies, for the subject matter at issue implicates profoundly important national security and foreign policy interests of the United States,” the Republican commissioners wrote.
“At this time, we do not know all of the facts and cannot support proposals that would burden the free speech rights of American citizens based on incomplete information about foreign activities in the 2016 election.”
Weintraub, who has publicly challenged President Donald Trump’s claims of systemic voter fraud in the 2016 elections, has also been accused by outside groups — the Republican National Lawyers Association, for example — for being overly political in her FEC role.
For her part, Weintraub said it’s ridiculous for the FEC to not collaborate with other agencies to address threats.
“We know now that there are strong indications that foreign governments are actively seeking, in the most ingenious ways that they can come up with, to influence our elections,” Weintraub said. “I don’t know why we would not be acting immediately to try and inform ourselves as best we can of what’s going on, what has happened, in order to try and address these problems ... We’re only 16 months out from the next election.”
As evidence the public wants the FEC to take action, Weintraub’s office provided Mic with 344 pages of recent emails members of the public sent to the commissioners.
The emails, unlike letters sent to Trump’s controversial “voter fraud panel” ahead of its first meeting Wednesday, had the senders’ personal information redacted.
Overwhelmingly, the writers spoke in favor of the FEC doing more to insulate U.S. politics from outside influence, whether through blocking foreign money or other types of interference.
“Protection of U.S. elections from foreign attack, whether via technology or finance, is imperative in preserving the United States as it was founded,” Callie M. wrote. “Donations to candidates need to be fully transparent so that the public knows who is financing and supporting campaigns, and elections need to be safeguarded against attacks.”
“It seems terrible I even have to ask. We need fair elections free from foreign interference,” wrote Kathleen S.
The letters ranged in tone from fearful to angry.
“I am a registered voter, American citizen. I am MUCH less concerned about voter fraud than I am about Russian interference with our election. I expect you to do your duty as civil servants and investigate that thoroughly,” Elizabeth J. G. wrote.
“Could you please make sure foreign governments are out of our elections. It kind of is your job, can you do us all a favor and DO YOUR JOB?” read a letter signed “Shayne.”
One notable email came from a writer named Rita D., who identified herself as a political refugee from the former Soviet Union. The writer called recent revelations that first son Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton “heart-wrenching.”
The Trump Jr. meeting came up repeatedly in the emails.
James S. bristled with indignation: “How can you, as the commissioners designated to oversee and protect the electoral institutions in the United States, even for a moment be considering not acting upon information that a foreign entity interfered with any election in the United States? You must act to protect our elections. You must act to protect our very sovereignty.”
The pleas continued.
“I was hoping that that might be persuasive to my colleagues to hear from citizens,” Weintraub said. “Plainly, they were not persuaded.”