On Jan. 20 I witnessed my 18th political “New Year.” That’s when we celebrate the orderly transition of power, and when winners and losers alike reflect on the election process we just completed. The winners decree “the people” have spoken, while the losers worry the country is headed toward ruin. All too often many on the losing side voice concerns about the election process, and some complain about undue influences on voters.
Many seem to think this is a recent phenomenon borne of the cyber age. But in the first contested American election in 1796, France worked to unseat John Adams and elect Thomas Jefferson. Adams’ supporters accused Jefferson of being pro-France, which proved hard to deny when the French ambassador publicly backed Jefferson just before the election.
The centerpiece of this year’s post-election concerns from the losing side was the reported email hacking by the Russian government. In particular, the release of Democratic National Party emails were thought to influence the vote for Trump and against Clinton. Interestingly, Russia’s efforts to impact governments of rival nations is not new. Germany and several former Soviet republics have been confirmed targets of Russian election meddling. Further, after the recent doping scandal involving Russian athletes, hackers targeted the World Anti-Doping agency before the Rio Olympics. And this list is only what’s known for certain. As some speculate, it’s possibly just the tip of the proverbial “Russian influence” iceberg.
In January, Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was re-elected speaker of the House for the 2017-2018 congressional term. A longtime ally of the archery and bowhunting industry, Ryan met privately with the ATA Board when the contingent visited his Capitol office in July, and took time to talk bowhunting and discuss issues relevant to the industry, including counterfeiting, the Republican tax bill, health care reform and more. Photo Credit: Patrick Durkin
In my view, powerful entities have always tried to influence our elections. Most such forces came from within our borders, and thus have been acceptable to the “election police.” Yet if you look closely, entities worldwide had a stake in the 2016 election. To wit:
- Israel has had a stake in American politics since its founding in 1948, and you can be sure America’s Jewish community has been fully invested in our elections ever since. President Obama’s position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian state created a rift with Israel, and Prime Minister Netanyahu openly supported Donald Trump.
- China has a grip on much of the world’s commerce, and is heavily invested in many American enterprises. Meanwhile, many American manufacturers have long had critical ties with the Chinese workforce. Then-candidate Trump’s condemnations of Chinese influences on American business likely triggered activities by China’s vaunted cyber community. Anyone who thinks the Chinese sat back and hoped for the best in November 2016 are naïve.
- Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico got plenty of media attention during the election. Anyone who thinks no one south of our border worked to influence the votes of many Mexican-Americans … well, I have a New York bridge I’d like to sell them.
- According to the Washington Post, no presidential candidate has ever been so closely associated with an organization soliciting funds from foreign governments as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although foreign governments and individuals can’t support U.S. political candidates, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation accepted millions ($262 million in 2013 alone) from foreign governments. The list includes Germany, Argentina, Saudi Arabia ($25+ million) and many others. Evidence of direct influence on the election is hard to prove, but when countries like Norway donate $20 million at the end of 2015 and $4.2 at the same time in 2016, common sense says Norway wanted to tip the scales for Clinton.
- Forbes reported on Sen. Edward Kennedy’s written offer in 1983 to General Secretary Andropov to help the Soviets deal with President Reagan in return for the Soviet leader helping the Democratic Party challenge Reagan in the 1984 election. Kennedy not only offered to visit Moscow and brief Soviet leaders on how to strengthen their propaganda, but said he would arrange for Andropov to do interviews on American television that would look like honest journalism. Kennedy’s motives? Improve Soviet-American relations, for sure, but also further Kennedy’s bid as a possible presidential candidate in 1988. That those efforts failed doesn’t mean the Soviets weren’t invited by a U.S. senator to influence an American election.
“For me, the critical aspect of elections is that we safeguard the voting process so the act of casting ballots is never corrupted,” said Jay McAninch, ATA CEO/President. “We must know that our president is fairly elected, and is the legitimate leader of America and the free world.” Photo Credit: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters
Of course, America’s hands aren’t clean when it comes to foreign elections, either. Dov Levin, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, reported that between 1946 and 2000 the United States influenced 81 foreign elections. That count doesn’t include covert efforts to create change in foreign governments to advance American interests, which happen as much as two-thirds of the time. Levin documented many U.S. actions to help one party prevail. Those efforts included direct funding, distributing information and misinformation, training campaign staffs, making threats or offering public support, and using foreign aid on behalf of one side.
Of course, Russia is equally guilty of past electioneering. Levin, for example, found that Russia, the United States or both influenced about 10 percent of national elections in foreign countries from 1946 to 2000.
Frankly, the current Russian hacking flap is not news to anyone who monitors elections worldwide. Attempts to influence elections have always happened one way or another. Whether it’s with money, propaganda (information and misinformation), fake news, false allegations, or hacked communications, individuals and entities have always worked hard – openly or secretly – to affect our elections. I doubt that will ever change because elections matter to everyone around the globe, not just Americans.
For me, the critical aspect of elections is that we safeguard the voting process so the act of casting ballots is never corrupted. We must know that our president is fairly elected, and is the legitimate leader of America and the free world. If evidence proves ballot-box tampering, then we must unite to stop that kind of influence. That focus helps us separate poor losers from people who were disenfranchised as citizens.
Any other kind of influence – like Russia hacking emails and sharing the contents publicly – is business as usual.