- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2019

The U.S. Federal Election Commission said Thursday that cybersecurity companies can offer discounted services to political candidates without violating campaign finances laws.

In an advisory opinion, the FEC said that a cybersecurity firm would not be making illegal “in-kind” contributions by giving deals to presidential campaigns and other candidates as long as those same discounts are available to others.

The decision marks a departure from a draft opinion issued weeks earlier in which the FEC said that the security company, Area 1, would likely violate campaign finance law by providing free or low-cost services to federal candidates and political committees.

After reviewing a revised proposal, the FEC concluded that the company could offer its anti-phishing services to political campaigns under its “little to no cost” pricing tier currently available to qualifying customers — a flat annual fee of $1,337 for organizations with fewer than 5,000 full-time employees — “because doing so would be in the ordinary course of Area 1’s business and on terms and conditions that apply to similarly situated non-political clients.”

“The sale of goods or services at a discount does not result in a contribution when the discount is offered in the ordinary course of business and made available on the same terms and conditions as to the vendor’s customers that are not federal candidates or political committees,” FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub wrote for the commission.

Area 1 did not immediately comment on the FEC’s opinion. Based in California, the firm launched in 2013 by former employees of the U.S. National Security Agency.

The FEC’s opinion came a day after members of the House and Senate were briefed behind closed doors by top administration officials, including the heads of the NSA and FBI, about the federal government’s efforts to safeguard next year’s presidential election on the heels of Russian operatives interfering in the last White House race.

Russian state-sponsored hackers and internet trolls meddled in the 2016 race won by President Trump, the U.S. government has concluded, and officials briefed by the administration this week said Moscow is slated to strike again.

“If there was one take away from this meeting, it’s that Russia will once again try to interfere in our elections,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, Michigan Democrat, said Thursday. “These are threats we all need to take seriously.”

Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 race. The Department of Justice has filed related criminal charges against dozens of Russian nationals, meanwhile.

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