Sarbanes, House Democrats Pass Critical Reforms to Fight Foreign Interference in American Elections

Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and House Administration Committee Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) today led House Democrats in passing the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act, a bill to curb foreign money, influence and interference in American elections.

Co-authored by Congressman Sarbanes, the SHIELD Act (H.R. 4617) would close loopholes that allow foreign spending in federal elections, boost disclosure and transparency requirements on political ad spending and create a duty to report illicit offers of campaign assistance from foreign nations or governments.

The bill contains several provisions included in H.R. 1, the For the People Act – a historic package of reforms to clean up corruption in Washington, expose secret foreign money in our politics, crack down on lobbyists, strengthen America’s election security, protect the right to vote and return power back to the American people with clean, citizen-owned elections. H.R. 1 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 8, 2019.

“Since day one, House Democrats have made securing our elections and protecting our democracy a top priority,” said Congressman Sarbanes, the author of H.R. 1. “As our first order of business, we passed H.R. 1 – the most sweeping anti-corruption bill in a generation – which included significant election security reforms and resources. We then passed the SAFE Act (H.R. 2722), a bill to modernize our elections and improve the security of our election infrastructure. Next, we passed H.R. 3551, which authorized emergency funding for states to secure our elections in advance of 2020.”

Congressman Sarbanes continued: “Overwhelmingly, House Republicans have refused to support these critical election security reforms. And over in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked each of these bills from receiving an up or down vote on Senate floor. As elected officials, we all swore an oath to keep our country safe. With the 2020 elections bearing down on us, we must move quickly to harden our election infrastructure and counter foreign interference.”

Debating the SHIELD Act on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives earlier today, Congressman Sarbanes highlighted the failure of Republicans to work with Democrats to protect our country from foreign attacks.

“We have tried now three times – three times – to get our Republican colleagues to support these basic measures that would safeguard the integrity of our elections,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “H.R. 1, the For the People Act, contained many of the same provisions. Now, I get it, I heard what you said: ‘Oh, the bill’s too big, it does these other things, we love the election security stuff.’ We can go get those quotes from the H.R. 1 debate. ‘Oh, if you would just do the election security or the ballot box security measures to protect our elections, we’d be on that in a minute.’

Congressman Sarbanes continued: “Well, you got a second chance, a second bite at the apple, with the SAFE Act. Thank you, Zoe Lofgren, for shepherding that through the committee. The SAFE Act that would protect the ballot box. But did Republicans vote for that to protect our democracy? No, they missed the second – strike two.”

Congressman Sarbanes concluded: “So now we have the SHIELD Act to protect us against foreign interference, foreign money coming into our elections and trying to influence the outcome, misinformation campaigns coming from overseas – all this interference that we have to push back on, that the American people are concerned about. So here you get a third chance to show that you want to protect our elections and safeguard our elections. This is the opportunity to stand up, support what the American people want to see, which is us protecting our democracy.”

Key provisions of the SHIELD Act include:

  • Creating a duty to report illicit offers of campaign assistance from foreign governments and their agents. 
  • Helping prevent foreign interference in our elections by improving transparency of online political advertisements.
  • Closing loopholes that allow foreign nationals and foreign governments to spend money in U.S. elections.
  • Restricting the exchange of campaign information between candidates and foreign governments.
  • Prohibiting deceptive practices about voting procedures.