Underwood bill seeks to limit further foreign influence in elections
Saying it's neither partisan nor a personal attack against President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood unveiled legislation Thursday aimed at reducing Russian and other foreign influence of American elections.
The Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act would force political campaigns at every level of government to disclose all contacts with foreign entities to an election commission. That would include campaign donations, offers of information and any other coordination with the foreign entity.
Failure to report such contact within a week of its occurrence would be punishable by up to a $500,000 fine and five years in prison.
Destroying evidence related to the foreign contact would be punishable by up to a $1 million fine and five years in prison.
The inspiration for the House bill stems from former special counsel Robert Mueller's report on confirmed Russian interference on behalf of then-candidate Trump in the 2016 election. Underwood said Mueller's public testimony Wednesday reinforced her belief that the United States must enhance its election security.
"We know there is a foreign adversary who has interfered in our elections and who is currently doing so ahead of the 2020 elections," Underwood said in an interview. "Mr. Mueller's investigation was not a partisan act. And this is not a partisan thing. There are clear instances of challenges to our current democratic processes. It is up to members of Congress to make sure our democracy is protected."
Underwood acknowledged a difficult road for her bill if it passes the House and moves over to the Senate. Senate Republicans have blocked most recent bills addressing election security.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has referenced a relative lack of concern about foreign influence in the 2018 midterm elections -- when Underwood won her seat -- and hundreds of millions of dollars funneled to state governments to shore up election systems after the 2016 Russian attacks as reasons to forego further enhancements.
Underwood said her bill goes beyond that funding. But Republicans supportive of Trump may find the language in Underwood's bill difficult to get behind because it would make some of the Russian contacts by non-indicted members of Trump's 2016 campaign illegal. Underwood said her bill isn't an attempt to attack the president.
"My legislation is not personal to the president," she said. "It has nothing to do with him as an individual. We know the Russians are interfering. That has been established as fact."
As far as any other inspiration found in Mueller's testimony this week, Underwood said she supports ongoing House investigations to find other federal agencies or people with security clearances who may have been compromised by Russia. She also said Mueller's testimony laid out a case that Trump fulfilled all the necessary aspects for an obstruction of justice charge.
However, she stopped short of supporting the start of impeachment proceedings.
"Impeachment is a process, and not a destination," Underwood said. "I don't celebrate impeachment. I don't take it lightly."