A new proposal by an anti-Trump Democrat on the Federal Election Commission would expand the federal government's probe into alleged Russian influence to foreign companies and internet sites that take political ads, like Facebook or the Drudge Report, while giving the FEC an unprecedented role that some say oversteps its authority.
Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, citing petitions from leftist groups demanding a wider investigation, on Thursday plans to push for commission support for her idea.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our democracy," she wrote in a hasty bid to get the commission to consider it at their Thursday meeting.
"The mere allegation that foreign interference may have occurred shakes the faith of Americans in our democracy. The FEC must find out the facts of what happened during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and move swiftly and firmly to fix any problems we find. Only then can we begin to restore the American people's resilient but battered faith that our federal elections belong to us -- and now some foreign power," she added.
Commissioner @EllenLWeintraub of @FEC wants briefings by @USDOJ or @USTreasury, re: foreign activity in elections https://t.co/u49zcuMl9P pic.twitter.com/dTHe7ONdSQ— Dave Levinthal (@davelevinthal) June 21, 2017
Her bid to jump into the Russia probe would crowd the field of government agencies investigating the allegations. None have asked for the FEC's help. She would also reach into states, a huge expansion of federal authority.
Critics of the idea called it a "federal power grab" beyond the scope of the FEC's powers. Her previous efforts to focus on politically active U.S. corporations with foreign ownership have been blocked by Republicans on the FEC.
Oddly, her proposal was not posted on the FEC website that was revamped in part to provide more transparency. Campaign finance reporter David Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity tweeted it out.
In her new proposal, she goes much further than earlier concerns about corporations and internet sites, though offered no evidence of interference other than news reports and two petitions from leftist groups.
She is urging the FEC to look into political spending by foreign sources on the internet, including Facebook, and presumably any other site that runs political ads, like the Drudge Report or Huffington Post. As part of that she called for open- and closed-door briefings by Justice and Treasury financial officials on the issue.
She also suggested that the FEC get investigators from other agencies, prompting a critic to ask, "why would the FEC take resources away from other agencies, like DOJ, that have far more authority to actually do something about Russia?"
What's more, she wants to assure public that state and federal databases are safe, though the agency doesn't have any authority over state elections boards, and has reportedly farmed out large portions of its U.S. campaign data entry tasks to workers in India.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com