Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday slammed a bill that would require political candidates and campaigns to report to the government any illicit foreign offers of assistance.
Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, spoke from the Senate floor in opposition to the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act, ahead of the proposal being considered across the Capitol building in the House of Representatives.
Introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, the SHIELD Act would create a duty for candidates and campaigns to notify the FBI and Federal Election Commission about any illicit offers of assistance made directly from or on the behalf of foreign governments, among other provisions. The House passed it later Wednesday by a vote of 227 to 181.
“It’s a textbook example of policy designed to reduce the amount of free speech in our country,” Mr. McConnell argued, calling it a “transparent attack on the First Amendment.”
“This proposal will not do anything to stop malign foreign actors, something that every member of this body cares deeply about,” said Mr. McConnell.
In addition to requiring candidates and campaigns to notify the government about illicit foreign offers of assistance, Ms. Lofgren said passage of the SHIELD Act would address several other factors that have allowed the U.S. electoral process to be disrupted from abroad.
“The SHIELD Act closes gaps in the law that allow foreign nationals and foreign governments to launder money into our elections,” Ms. Lofgren said previously. “It promotes full transparency of the sources behind online advertising campaigns, and it codifies a basic norm that political committees should report offers of illicit campaign assistance from foreign governments to the FBI and to the FEC, rather than welcome interference from foreign governments.”
Foreigners interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential race and are poised to meddle in next year’s election as well, according to top U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials.
An investigation conducted by the Department of Justice into the 2016 election found that the Russian government targeted the contest in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” to disrupt the electoral process and denigrate former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Federal investigators examining the 2016 race uncovered dozens of suspicious interactions between Russians and members of President Trump’s election team, but their probe “did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Mr. Trump subsequently said in June that he would be willing to accept damaging information about his political opponents from foreign governments. The following month, he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a phone call to investigate former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden, triggering the impeachment inquiry currently underway on Capitol Hill.
Eighty-seven percent of voters, including 80 percent of Republicans, believe political campaigns should alert the FBI about information offered by foreign governments, according to the results of a Quinnipiac University poll released in July.
A bill similar to the SHIELD Act, the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act, was introduced earlier this month in the Senate by Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat.
Mr. McConnell has previously opposed election security bills offered in Congress, prompting Democratic critics to mockingly refer to him in recent months as “Moscow Mitch.”