Resisting Russia's Attacks on our Democracy

Posted on February 15, 2018

By Sander Kushen, a Common Cause intern

Russia is using our weak disclosure requirements and lack of corporate transparency to influence our economy and politics, according to a panel held at a Washington-based think tank held on Wednesday.

The panel was held by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and hosted several experts who spoke on the urgency of the issue, including Heather Conley, the Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Conley cited Russia’s long history of influencing fledgling democracies in Europe. In places like Bulgaria, initial economic investments from Russian oligarchs would lead to political relationships, which were ultimately used to strengthen those economic connections. This corruptive cycle of money and power would continue until Russian surrogates occupied the highest levels government, said Conley.

Now, due to a lack of transparency and disclosure in our own government, Russia is in the midst of doing the exact same thing to the United States.

Russia’s political and economic influence “depends on the normalcy of corruption,” according to Franklin Foer, National Correspondent at The Atlantic. Foer asserts that this has happened due to people complicit in this project: big law firms; those who sue journalists to keep the public in the dark; elusive, big-money lobbyists; and politicians who rely on “dark money.”

According to Foer, people like Paul Manafort represent “a good chunk” of what happens in many of America’s big firms.

Yet the influence of Russian money doesn’t end with American firms. The possibility of Russian influence is glaring in our current president, who the panelists claimed is especially vulnerable.

Trump’s pattern of conduct, including a lack of transparency, troubling partnerships, and lack of due diligence may have made him a target for Russian economic backing, asserted Diana Pilipenko, Associate Director of Anti-Corruption and Illicit Finance at CAP.

So whom do we blame for this attack on our democracy? According to the panelists: ourselves.

“The Kremlin exploits system vulnerabilities that are already present,” explained Pilipenko. She then went on to promote better transparency and campaign finance laws to expose the now-anonymous donors backing our economy and politics.

Earlier this week, top intelligence chiefs warned lawmakers that Russia is also using information campaigns and cyberattacks to influence the upcoming 2018 elections. Meanwhile, Trump still refuses to enforce sanctions on Russia that were passed by an overwhelming majority in congress.

Russia is working toward complete control of our democratic institutions, and so far both congress and our president are letting it happen without resistance.

Office: Common Cause National

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