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One GOP sponsor is breath of life for online political ad regulation

Lindsey Graham is giving a slim but firm reed to those hoping at least one democracy reform priority gets through Congress before the next election.

Like a singular crocus in a field of snow, the South Carolinian is standing out this week after agreeing to become the first Senate Republican to sponsor the Honest Ads Act, the shorthand name for legislation that would boost disclosure requirements for campaign advertising online.

Proponents of the bill are hoping support from someone who's become one of President Trump's most vocal congressional allies will herald the start of a steady build-up of GOP endorsements in the Senate.

It will take at least a dozen more Republicans coming aboard to guarantee the bill could break a filibuster led by their own leader, Mitch McConnell, who is steadfastly opposed to almost all ideas for regulating campaign spending. Even additional sunshine requirements, he says, will stifle the right to free political speech.

The measure would compel the social media behemoths with at least 50 million visitors to disclose the pricing, target audience and identity of the advertisers behind political ads worth more than $500 placed on their platforms. The aim is to help prevent a repeat of one of Russia's most successful infiltrations of the 2016 campaign debate, by ensuring that paid political spots online are covered by the same federal regulations as the advertising on TV and radio.

Similar language is in the political overhaul package the House passed this spring. No Republicans voted for the multifaceted House bill dubbed HR 1, (which McConnell has vowed to bury in the Senate) but a handful have said they would support the Honest Ads Act on its own.

Facebook and Twitter endorsed the legislation last year, when they faced withering bipartisan criticism for their inability to confront their central role in the Russian campaign interreference efforts. The sole Senate GOP sponsor until his death was John McCain, whom Graham counted as his closest friend in public life. The prime Senate Democratic advocates are presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia, who has his party's top seat on the Intelligence Committee.

"As we enter another presidential election cycle susceptible to foreign interference, Congress needs to put in place some commonsense guardrails to ensure that this never happens again, starting with the Honest Ads Act," Warner wrote in a recent USA Today op-ed.

We’re all about the issues that have broken American democracy — and efforts to make governments work again for you, your family and your friends.
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Swing states build 2020 hacking protections: Will they hold?

With the presidency on the ballot in less than a year, fears of another attempt by Russia or other foreign powers to interfere in the election seem to grow with each passing day.

But in the battlegrounds where the outcome will be decided — the 13 states almost certain to be most hotly contested by both parties — election security has been tightening and the opportunities for a successful hacking of American democracy are being greatly reduced, a review of the procedures and equipment on course to be used in each state in November 2020 makes clear.

"There's been a huge amount of progress since 2016," says Elaine Kamarck, an election security expert at the Brookings Institution. James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, says his assessment of the fight against election interference results in feeling "confident that a lot has been done to make it better."

In fact, many who work on the issue now cite the public's perception that our election systems are vulnerable as a problem at least as great as the actual threat.

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The 13 states where election security matters most

Along with the candidates and the issues, the 2020 presidential election is also going to be about the voting process itself.

Russian efforts to hack into the voting systems of 2016 have boosted election security to a critical concern this time, prompting states to spend tens of millions buying new equipment, hiring cybersecurity wizards and installing software that warns of intrusions — among numerous other steps. More purchases of hardware, software and expertise are coming in the months ahead.

Whether enough money gets spent, and wisely, won't be known for sure until Nov. 3, 2020 — when the system will be subject to the one test that really matters. And whether the country decides the presidential election result is trustworthy will likely come down to how reliably things work in the relatively small number of states both nominees are contesting.

[Swing states build 2020 hacking protections: Will they hold?]

With 11 months to go, The Fulcrum reviewed information from state elections officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Election Assistance Commission and news reports to get a sense of the election security landscape. Here's the state of play in the 13 states likeliest to be presidential battlegrounds.

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"Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy," argues Wambui Gatheru.

For the young, getting big money out of politics is the cause of our time

Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to permit laws that regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds. She graduated two years ago from the University of Connecticut.

When young Americans come together, we can make a big impact. That's what we've seen throughout history. Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Ross were in their early 20s during the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass was 23 years old when he took the stage at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Alice Paul through her 20s led the fight for the 19th Amendment and women's voting rights.

And that's what we're seeing today in youth-led climate movements around the globe and the movement to end mass shootings here in the United States. But one issue that doesn't get as much attention sits at the root of our modern problems: big money in politics.

Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy. Due to a series of Supreme Court cases, corporations have the same rights as humans, special interests control Capitol Hill and democracy only works for those who can afford it. This is the dystopia my generation has inherited.

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Howard Dean and Barack Obama pioneered the drive for small-dollar contributors. Now, such donations have become an important measuring stick and may be contributing to increased polarization.

Small-dollar gifts hardly a cure-all for money’s smear on politics, one professor argues

The explosion of small-donor political contributions is often celebrated and extolled as one of the few positive developments amid all the problems facing the democracy reform movement.

Not so fast, argues New York University law school professor Richard Pildes. In a new essay published in the Yale Law Journal Forum, he argues the proliferation of modest contributions to candidates may be contributing to more political polarization and, at least, requires more careful examination.

Pildes also says the proposals to promote more small-donor giving that are part of the House Democrats' comprehensive political process overhaul, known as HR 1, could have unintended negative consequences.

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