Editorials

Here’s to the Gig Harbor Democrat willing to take on “Moscow Mitch”

Congressman Kilmer on his ‘Honest Ads Act’

During a meeting with The News Tribune editorial board on Aug. 14, 2019, Congressman Derek Kilmer details legislation he's sponsoring to help prevent foreign interference in future elections.
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During a meeting with The News Tribune editorial board on Aug. 14, 2019, Congressman Derek Kilmer details legislation he's sponsoring to help prevent foreign interference in future elections.

Three things can be said of Russian interference with U.S. elections: It happened. It’s happening. And it will continue to happen unless lawmakers in D.C. step in and stop it.

In 2017 they had their chance. The Honest Ads Act was a bipartisan/bicameral piece of legislation mandating online political ads share the same transparency requirements as ads sold through traditional media like newspapers, television, radio and news websites.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the Honest Ads Act characterizing it as a federal takeover of elections. His rejection of that bill and another election security measure earned the senator from Kentucky the moniker “Moscow Mitch.”

Certainly, McConnell’s rejection of the bill was music to the ears of Russian troll farms who remain hard at work infiltrating social media with divisive political messages.

Tacoma area Congressman Derek Kilmer wants Congress to have another crack at The Honest Ads Act. Together with Elise Stefanik, R-New York, he is reintroducing the 2017 measure. Lead sponsors on the Senate side are Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia. They are joined by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

We’re with Kilmer on this one: Congress needs to address this national security crisis and pass legislation ASAP. As Kilmer says, “We know foreign entities bought ads and without any disclosure requirements, they got away with it.”

And for the record, the bill does not restrict content; it only requires a “Paid for by…” disclosure and a public record of all political advertisements.

Kilmer’s urgency on the matter is commensurate with the threat. Foreign interference is dark web, dark money, evil, subversive cyber-spy stuff, the kind you’d find in a Tom Clancy novel. And while Kilmer may not fit the Clancy hero-archetype, the Gig Harbor Democrat is ready for a fight when the congressional August recess concludes.

Kilmer concedes The Honest Ads Act won’t put a complete stop to the dissemination of disinformation, but we say a high hurdle is better than unfettered access.

Kilmer recently told the TNT Editorial Board that internet platforms like Google and Facebook are “OK with being regulated, and they should be in this instance.”

It’s good to hear these corporate titans are willing to cooperate. Certainly, Facebook got a wake-up call after the Cambridge Analytica data breach. The digital strategy firm used by the Trump campaign targeted 87 million Facebook users with political ads on divisive issues like guns, gay rights and race relations.

The primary directive of social media companies is to keep viewers engaged and entertained not fend off foes. Without regulatory framework compelling them to take steps against provocative content paid for by foreign and non-state actors, Americans are depending on the honor system to fight a national security issue.

At the end of the day, corporate loyalties lie with shareholders, which is why many U.S. political ads in 2016 were paid for with rubles.

If anyone can find some bipartisan consensus on this, it might be Kilmer who’s earned a reputation in both his district and in D.C. for being a bridge-builder, not a progressive bomb-thrower.

It’s why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped him earlier this year to chair the Select “Modernization of Congress” Committee. Kilmer likes to quote a colleague who said of today’s Congress, “We’re an 18th Century body using 20th Century technology and trying to solve 21st Century problems.”

One of those 21st Century problems is online foreign interference, something Kilmer insists is a nonpartisan issue. Indeed, if we can’t find democratic consensus on this, we’re in real trouble.

Kilmer is also the lead sponsor on a bill to reform the Federal Elections Commission. The independent watchdog commission doesn’t even have enough members to legally meet after a recent top-level resignation. As Kilmer said in a Tweet, “We need the referee on the field enforcing the rules.”

Russia isn’t the only malefactor. Twitter acknowledged last week there’s a “significant state-backed information operation coming out of Beijing,” all in an effort to foment social unrest and block pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong.

Around the globe information warfare is in full swing. And if Congress won’t defend America’s democratic process from foreign interference, who will?

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