House Takes Up Bill to Combat Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections

WASHINGTON – Members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 23 passed a measure aimed at combatting foreign interference in U.S. elections.

HR 4617, which was approved on a 227-181 vote, would require U.S. political campaigns to inform law enforcement when they receive offers of foreign assistance. It also would close loopholes that allow foreign funds to illegally enter the U.S. electoral system; prohibit foreign spending on state ballot initiatives; prohibit U.S. campaigns from disclosing non-public information, including poll numbers, to foreign governments and their agents, and require sponsors of online political advertising to identify themselves in the ad, just as they must do in commercials run on broadcast channels.

Alabama’s representatives split on the issue, with Democrat Terri Sewell voting for it and Republicans Mike Rogers, Robert Aderholt, Bradley Byrne, Martha Roby, Mo Brooks and Gary Palmer voting against it.

Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said “the need to act is urgent” because “our adversaries have a variety of tools to interfere in our democracy. Their goal is to divide us and attack our values of equality and freedom. Their tactics are calculated to undermine confidence in our democratic institutions so that they will collapse under the pressure of the division and distrust.”

Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said parts of the bill are unconstitutional and will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. For instance, he said we should not be proposing broad, vague regulations for disclosing online political ads that create unworkable standards for the American public.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

In a related vote, the House voted 180- 231 to defeat an amendment to that bill that would have removed a provision authorizing the U.S. attorney general to correct the spread of false logistical information about state and local elections. Such information could include misstatements of voting dates, times and places. Voting for the bill were Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks and Palmer. Sewell voted against it.

Here’s how area members of Congress voted on other major issues during the legislative week ending Oct. 25.


Unmasking Shell Corporations:

Voting 249 for and 173 against, the House Oct. 22 on passed a bill (HR 2513) that would require small corporations and limited liability companies to identify their true owners when they are formed and in annual filings with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which combats domestic and global criminal activity including the laundering of terrorism and drug funds.

Because anonymously financed shell corporations tend to be relatively small operations, the bill is directed mainly at U.S.-based companies with fewer than 20 full-time employees and annual sales or gross receipts under $5 million. The bill exempts banks, credit unions, registered broker-dealers, insurance companies, non-profits and certain publicly traded companies. Companies would have to identify their “beneficial owners” – those who ultimately control the firm even though ownership is listed in another name. Critics said the bill would imperil business owners’ privacy rights because law enforcement could access the Treasury Department database without court-issued warrants or subpoenas.

Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said: “Today, anyone can create a company without providing any information about the company’s actual owners. This ability to remain anonymous gives criminals and terrorists unimpeded, hidden access to our banking and commercial systems.”

Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said the bill would require small business owners “to submit their personal information to a new federal database … accessible to law enforcement without a warrant and without a subpoena, a disturbing violation of due process.”

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.


Voting yes: Rogers, Aderholt, Sewell

Voting no: Byrne, Roby, Brooks, Palmer

 Requiring Subpoenas to Access Database:

Voting 197 for and 224 against, the House on Oct. 22 defeated a Republican-sponsored motion requiring law enforcement to obtain a court-issued subpoena for access to ownership information collected by the Treasury Department under HR 2513 (above). The information consists of the beneficial, or actual, owners name, address, date of birth and driver’s license or other government ID number. Law enforcement could tap into the Treasury database only as part of an ongoing investigation, and a civil liberties unit would oversee their actions.

Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, said the motion is about defending freedom. Civil liberties have historically united this great body. Do any of my colleagues, regardless of party affiliation, really want law enforcement to access the data of small business owners and farmers without cause and without a warrant or subpoena?

Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said: I am thrilled to hear my Republican colleagues say they are concerned about privacy and civil liberties. But this bill already has extraordinarily strong privacy protections. Law enforcement can only ask for access for this data if there is already an ongoing law enforcement investigation. The whole process is overseen by civil liberties and privacy officers.

A yes vote was to adopt the motion.


Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 

Voting no: Sewell

Attempting to Censure Adam Schiff:

Voting 218 for and 185 against, the House on Oct. 21 blocked a Republican-sponsored resolution (H Res 630) “condemning and censuring” Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is conducting an inquiry into impeachment of President Trump.

The GOP measure faulted Schiff, D-Calif., for publicly mischaracterizing a July 2019 telephone conversation between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine; for Schiff’s acknowledged misleading statements about his staff’s contacts with a whistleblower who alleged Trump acted inappropriately in that conversation; and for accusing Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign of working with Russia.

The resolution was quashed by a parliamentary ruling that it did not qualify as a “privileged question” entitled to floor action under House rules. On the vote reported here, Democrats upheld that ruling after it was appealed by Republicans. House rules did not allow debate on the measure.

A yes vote was in opposition to the censure of Schiff.


Voting yes: Sewell

Voting no: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 


Reinforcing Cap on State and Local Tax Deductions:

Voting 43 for and 52 against, the Senate on Oct. 23 turned back a Democratic attempt to allow states to offer residents a way to circumvent the $10,000 limit on deductions of state and local income and property taxes on federal returns. Republicans included the cap in their 2017 tax-cut law, a move seen as targeting upper-income areas that tend to levy high taxes and vote Democratic.

To allow their taxpayers to stay within the $10,000 limit without seeing their overall tax bills jump, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have allowed residents to make federally deductible charitable contributions to public-improvement funds, and then receive credits against their state tax obligations as a trade-off. But the Internal Revenue Service issued a regulation to prohibit the tactic, extending the general rule that taxpayers cannot deduct charitable contributions for which they receive something in return. On the vote reported here, the Senate defeated a resolution (SJ Res 50) aimed at killing the IRS rule.

Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the new IRS rules are designed to block efforts by homeowners across America to avoid the Trump tax laws harmful caps on their state and local tax deductions … . Because of the new $10,000 cap on property tax deductions, home values in New Jersey have taken a huge hit. In fact, home values in Essex County, N.J., declined more than those of any other county in America.

Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said: “Charity is by definition something done out of the goodness of your heart without expecting or getting something in return. That is certainly not the case with these workarounds. There is no charity involved. In fact, once taking into account both the state tax credit and the charitable deduction at the federal level, a taxpayer could actually receive a tax benefit that exceeds the dollar value of their so-called donation.”

A yes vote was to adopt the resolution.


Voting yes: Doug Jones, D 

Voting no: Richard Shelby, R 


The House in the week of Oct. 28 will take up bills to protect public lands in the West and place economic sanctions on Turkey over its invasion of Syria, while the Senate will debate fiscal 2020 appropriations.