Foreign Influence in U.S. Elections

This panel featured Federal Election Commission Commissioner Ellen Weintraub; Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Associate Professor of Law at Stetson University; Eric Wang, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Free Speech; Adav Noti, Senior Director, Trial Litigation & Chief of Staff of Campaign Legal Center; and Professor Anthony Johnstone of the Montana School of Law. Scott Greytak of RepresentUs moderated.

The five panelists held a lively, and at times contentious, discussion on the seriousness of the threat foreign influence poses to American democracy and how to best address it. Much of the discussion revolved around the revelations of Russian expenditures during the 2016 election cycle. Panelists noted that social media provided foreign actors an extremely cost-effective means of influencing and dividing the American public. With the exception of Eric Wang of the Institute for Free Speech, panelists were nearly unanimous in their support for the expansion of disclosure laws.

There was also special attention paid to how to make the bipartisan case for reform. Professor Johnstone of the University of Montana School of Law stressed that this issue should be framed as one of self-governance, not about bigotry or an anti-foreign sentiment: “The concern, once you open government up to represent us…is making sure it’s the right ‘us.’”