Could Russia (or Mexico) influence the feds to regulate Drudge?

Could Russia (or Mexico) influence the feds to regulate Drudge?
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this month that his company sold over $100,000 in social media advertising to a Russian government-controlled front group during the 2016 election cycle. While that amount is a relative pittance and critics are saying the ads were poorly produced — where is Bill Maher when you really need him? — the discovery has raised alarms.

It’s ironic, of course, that America’s media elites are suddenly alarmed, considering that the CIA and intelligence agencies abroad have engaged in similar activity for decades. But putting that aside, what if the bigger danger comes not from amateurish foreign advertisers, but from foreign governments seeking to influence the American regulatory agencies meant to act as the citizens' watchdogs?

Could a foreign government — such as Russia, Ukraine or Mexico, for example — bribe or “incentivize” a federal agency such as the Federal Election Commission to regulate (or "rein in") a conservative news website such as the Drudge Report?

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The truth could be stranger than fiction if you examine the habits of the federal commissioners who run our regulatory agencies.

 

Over the summer, Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub expressed fear that foreign money could influence American elections. (Fat chance Democrats would consider doing the same to the Huffington Post or another one of their favored news outlets.) 

The concern is ironic considering Weintraub has been the top beneficiary of foreign money at the FEC. She would never allow that to influence her judgment or regulatory agenda, right? 

Thanks to information gathered with open records laws, new reports have indicated that Weintraub has taken more than 30 trips abroad since she joined the agency in 2003. Some of those trips have been financed, in part, by foreign groups connected to governments around the world. Those countries include the Philippines, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador, to name a few.

The purpose of the trips sounds benign, usually helping to monitor an election or speak at a conference. But those visits also provide foreign leaders a chance to wine and dine commissioners and the staff accompanying them. During a trip to Albania, a trip itinerary suggests Weintraub stopped for dinner with leaders of the country's Socialist Party and something called the "Socialist Movement for Integration." Did they use the dinner to exchange best practices for honest elections — or for cracking down on free speech? Americans will never know. 

Of course, not all foreign travel involves a quid pro quo, as we know from the Clinton experience. Accepting a half-million dollars in fees for one speech in a foreign capital never corrupted Bill or Hillary, right?

We also know that one commissioner has used the trips to suggest she doesn’t love the American way of life. Ann Ravel, a Democrat who resigned her seat on the commission this year, used an earlier trip to Mexico to tell a conference that she was "embarrassed" by the American electoral system. Ravel said it was because "women in the U.S. are 55 percent of the voters, and yet we have only 20 percent women in the Senate."

Do Democrats think America should follow Mexico's lead instead? Did she bother to ask her hosts why no major political party in Mexico has ever nominated a woman for president of that country?

When foreign groups don't pick up the full tab for these foreign trips, American taxpayers fill in the rest. That makes it especially shameful that any of our federal regulators would use these trips to bash the United States on foreign soil.

For years, Democrats have been vocal in their desire to regulate speech on websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Will they use the news of foreign governments purchasing social media advertising as an excuse to enter that regulatory minefield more boldly?

But what's even more worrisome is that third-party groups, some connected to foreign governments, have spent tens of thousands of dollars helping regulators travel around the world. Who's to say that quid pro quo, spoken or unspoken, isn't part of the equation?

It's far more likely than the idea that foreign governments might be using a website like Drudge to spread propaganda. Buying one regulator would be more cost-effective than spending millions trying to sway millions through advertising. After all, "I can get it for you wholesale" is still the American way.

Tom Tancredo represented Colorado’s 6th congressional district as a Republican from 1999 to 2009. He is presently the chairman of Team America PAC