The spread of disinformation online promises to be one of the biggest threats to American democracy during the 2020 election and beyond, if no action is taken. But efforts to defend against these falsehoods remains hamstrung by partisanship.
Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub called disinformation "a fundamental assault on democracy" during a digital disinformation symposium this week at FEC headquarters in Washington.
Weintraub, along with PEN America and the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University, invited politicians, government officials, tech companies, academics and media representatives to the symposium to discuss disinformation and how to combat it. There were no ready answers.
It's been a dozen days since the Federal Election Commission lost its quorum, and subsequently its ability to perform most of its duties in enforcing campaign finance law. With only three commissioners on the job, and four required to take any action, the fall's first regularly scheduled meeting was canceled Thursday.
President Trump and the Senate have the power to restore full functionality to the FEC with relative speed, but the partisanship that's deadlocked the agency for years is clogging the process even as the 2020 campaign heats up.
Democratic senators are proposing seating one new commissioner from each party, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which reports that the consensus choice for the Democratic spot is Shana Broussard, an FEC attorney who would be the first African-American commissioner in the FEC's 44-year history.
The start of September marks a grim new chapter for the Federal Election Commission.
With Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen departing at the end of last month, the commission no longer has the minimum number of members required to carry out most of the FEC's basic responsibilities as the watchdog and regulator of federal campaign finance activity.
There are six seats on the commission, but two of them have been vacant since soon after President Trump took office. With Peterson's resignation, after 11 years on the job, the commission has lost its four-person quorum — and also the potential for the four votes necessary to take even the most anodyne, bipartisan action.
The Federal Election Commission has once again punted on establishing rules for identifying who is sponsoring online political advertisements. Thursday marked the fourth consecutive meeting in which the topic fell to the wayside without a clear path forward.
FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub revived debate on the topic in June when she introduced a proposal on how to regulate online political ads. In her proposal, she said the growing threat of misinformation meant that requiring transparency for political ads was "a small but necessary step."
Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen and Commissioner Caroline Hunter put forth their own proposal soon after Weintraub, but the commissioners have failed to find any middle ground. At Thursday's meeting, a decision on the agenda item was pushed off to a later date.
Weintraub's proposal says the funding source should be clearly visible on the face of the ad, with some allowance for abbreviations. But Petersen and Hunter want to allow more flexibility for tiny ads that cannot accommodate these disclaimers due to space.