Congress, FEC meet about security breakdowns

Election agency officials brief lawmakers investigating computer hacks, staffing problems

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Federal Election Commission staff today traveled to Capitol Hill and briefed congressional officials investigating the beleaguered agency on how it intends to address recent computer security and staffing problems, officials from both government bodies confirmed.

The FEC's contingent was led by Alec Palmer, who doubles as the agency's staff and information technology director.

It wasn't immediately clear how many congressional officials participated in the meetings, although a spokesman for Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that his office participated.

Brady, along with Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., last week called for separate inquiries into the FEC's recent woes, which include an October infiltration into its computer systems by Chinese hackers. Brady is the ranking member on the Committee on House Administration, which has FEC oversight powers.

Across Washington, D.C., at today's first public FEC meeting of the year, newly installed Chairman Lee Goodman, a Republican, opened proceedings by delivering a prepared statement during which he called for several agency reforms.

Among his stated aspirations: a "new information technology system to improve the functionality and security of our IT" and a concerted effort to "rebuild the Reports Analysis Division and catch up on a backlog of disclosure report reviews." He also vowed to "enhance" the agency's website with "better, clearer access to the campaign finance data we collect."

"Looking ahead, we have work ahead of us to clarify our rules, update our regulations and reporting forms and make our enforcement procedures as fair as possible for the good citizens whose democratic activities come before us," Goodman said.

He then added that the agency's "overriding goal" must be to "avoid unnecessary deterrence" of political activity and encourage Americans to exercise their "profoundly important 1st Amendment rights."

On this point, he received almost immediate pushback from the FEC's three Democratic appointees, who generally favor stricter disclosure requirements for political actors.

To wit: Democratic commissioners disagreed with their Republican counterparts over whether to require disclaimers on political advertisements that appear on mobile phones. Mobile communications company Revolution Messaging had petitioned the FEC for an advisory opinion on the matter.

The commission appeared headed toward a 3-3 deadlock, with Republicans opposing the disclaimers and Democrats supporting them. Commissioners then decided to delay a vote until another meeting, with representatives from Revolution Messaging noting that they may tweak their request in the meantime in hope of garnering the four votes needed for the commission to take action.

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