March 8, 2018
Albany, NY

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo and U.S. Senator Klobuchar Call for Passage of Reforms to Ensure Elections are Fair, Transparent and Free From Foreign Influence

TOP Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo and...

Governor Invests $5 Million in the FY 2019 Executive Budget to Strengthen Statewide Cyber Security Protections for Elections Infrastructure

Strongest & Most Comprehensive Regulation of Online Political Advertisements and Cyber Security Will Ensure Elections Are Fair, Transparent and Free From Foreign Influence


Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar called for swift passage of legislation to ensure elections are fair, transparent and free from foreign influence. Governor Cuomo and U.S. Senator Klobuchar have proposed complementary legislation in New York State and the United States Congress to mandate transparency in political advertising, require online platforms to maintain an archive of political ads, and protect elections from foreign influence.

The Governor's FY 2019 Executive Budget also includes $5 million to create an Election Cyber Security Support Toolkit and strengthen statewide cyber security protections, as well as $7 million to improve access to voting across the state by instituting early voting as well as automatic and same-day voter registration. More information is available here.

AUDIO of the call is available here.

A rush transcript is available below.

Governor Cuomo: Good morning everyone. I'm going to going to speak even faster than usual. I normally speak quickly because I'm a New Yorker, but we have Senator Klobuchar with us who I'm very grateful joined with us on this important issue. As you all know, she's very, very busy in Washington so I don't want to take any more time than we have to.

Washington is in a state of crisis. We all know that. You read the newspapers every day and there's been a void of federal leadership on a host of critical issues, from the madness with guns to the tax reform that they did, which is a giveaway to the rich, 800,000 DACA young people still living in limbo, sexual harassment against women, the administration has shown no leadership.

But there's a fundamental crisis that goes to the bedrock of our democracy, and that is a crisis that is questioning our electoral system. If you were writing a sci-fi novel and trying to come up with a cyber-plan to wreak havoc in American society, this is what you would come up with. You would say, let's pervert their election system so there is no confidence in the election system. And that could spread chaos through America. The problem is it's not a sci-fi novel, it is true. it's not hyperbolic. Mueller's indicted 13 Russians. You have 21 states that we know were targeted by Russians. And in 8 months we have another election coming. And that is going to be a very heated, very controversial election. You know the partisan spirit that exists in this country. Can you just imagine the passion around the midterm elections? And if you inject in it the current recognition that there are hacking violations, this is real, and Americans question the results of those elections, that could really be a chaotic situation.

The President has been silent on this matter. Why? Because he can't say the word "Russia." He's in political paralysis given everything else that's going on. Department of State didn't spend $121 million to fight cyber security, they have no answer why. But politically they just are unable or unwilling to go near this issue. So we need federal action. We need a system in place that governs the federal elections, which only the federal government can do, and we need a uniform system across the state. So, Senator Klobuchar's initiative is exactly right and ultimately the best solution. In the meantime, states can help and that's what we plan to do here in New York. I have a law that is in the budget, which will be decided in the next few weeks that will make a meaningful difference. It addresses the toxic cocktail that now exists. The toxic cocktail is social media explosion, lack of protection, lack of regulation, and the anonymity in social media, and the ability of social media to target so effectively. How can states help? Pass a state law governing state elections, which is in our purview. And that's what we're going to do. We do two things - one, we set up a cybersecurity system, which we began already. We're going to put $5 million into securing our boards of elections. That's how elections happen in this state, by local boards. We're going to make them more protected from cyberattacks. And second, we want to pass a law which we spoke with Floyd Abramsabout last week, and the law is very simple. Social media has to disclose who paid for political communication. Candidate ads, issue ads - social media must disclose. Right now, you have to disclose if you take out an ad on TV, if you take out an ad in the newspaper, if you take an ad on the radio. Social media has revolutionized politics in a way we haven't seen since TV and more and more people are using social media to do ads. How can you not have disclosure? What possible rationale says, you must disclose a TV ad but not a social media ad? There is no logical explanation. It's just that the government hasn't caught up with the evolution of the political dialogue. So our law says, social media must disclose who paid for it, the social media companies are charged with reasonable efforts to make sure they are bona fide purchasers - not foreign companies, you're not getting paid in rubles. Reasonable efforts, they don't have to be a detective squad, but they do have to take reasonable efforts. Then there would be a database of these entities and that database would allow regulators, enforcement agencies, investigative reporters, to actually find out who is behind it. I think that would be a major step forward. I also think it complements and aids Senator Klobuchar's efforts, because if New York puts in a system, California is talking about a system, Illinois is talking about a system, we're talking to other states about putting in systems, which, again would regulate their state elections.

Look what happens, the social media companies now have two options. Either a social media company could participate in a state election in New York and do the disclosure or they could decide they don't want to participate and one of their competitors will do the disclosure and come in. The market will drive the social media companies to adopt this, otherwise they have to write off New York and California and Illinois, which means they create an opening for their competitor who will do it. Secondly, once you have a state disclosure system on ads, federal government doesn't have that disclosure system, the absurdity of the situation will be overwhelming. Well, a state election they have to disclose who's paying for the ad, but a federal government, well that can still be the wild west of political advertising. It's unsustainable and a corollary to that is, once you have all these states putting their own systems in place, they'll be looking for a uniform system so they don't have to do one set of advertising for New York, and one set of advertising for California, fit into fifty different matrix. They'll beg Senator Klobuchar, please pass a uniform set of disclosure regulations because we're a national company and we can't do this state by state. So I think this is very complementary of what the Senator is doing. I congratulate her, I applaud her. She's done a lot of good work, her human trafficking work, work she's done on opioids has been just groundbreaking and this Honest Ads Act I think is exactly right and it should be passed as soon as possible.

One personal note on Senator Klobuchar, I know Senator, you have a daughter who is now in New York and is working in politics in New York and I'm sure on some level, you see that as bird flying from the nest. I was in a similar situation, I was young once, and I had a father who was Governor of New York and was this overbearing presence and I had to get away from the nest and I fled to Washington, to spread my wings. And Senator, I am now back at the same desk that my father sat at for 12 years as Governor. So, the bird comes home to the nest. With that, Senator Klobuchar.

Senator Klobuchar: Well thank you so much Governor. Now, the issue there is the bird in my case, really seems to like living in New York City so we will see. But I want to thank you so much for your leadership on this. And really, as I listen to you talk about it, it made me think about the fact that one, this is good for New York that you're doing this and taking this leadership. But it really is important nationally because right now we have been making advancements on this bill. It's been getting a lot of attention, the FEC is doing some minor things I believe, but it won't get at all to the major problem of the issue ads, as far as we know. And so, that is why this is so important, because the bill that you have put forward in New York is very similar to what we want to see rolled out nationally. And this is the Honest Ad Act. It's a bill that I am leading with Senator McCain. So it is bi-partisan, and as you know, Senator McCain has been involved campaign finance issues for a long time. A long with Senator Mark Warner who is the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the Senate. And this came for all of us, first of all, from what we saw as the interference in the last election. Just recently, six of our top intelligence officials, these were not Obama officials. These were Trump officials. The head of the CIA, the head of the FBI, the National Intelligence Director. And every one of them under oath said that Russia, in fact, had been working to undermine our election and that they would be working to do it in the future. In fact, Director Coats said that Russia will continue to conduct, and these were his words, not mine, bolder and more disruptive cyber operations. So I don't know what more proof that we need that we need to act. First, upgrading our election equipment, which is not our major focus today but is very timely because we have this omnibus bill coming up and Senator Langford and I have a proposal to put what is three percent of the cost of one aircraft carrier to allow the money to go out to states. We have ten states that don't have back up paper ballots, we have all kinds of issues with State election equipment.

But the second thing is to take on this information warfare. Russia has done this before. When McCain and Lindsay Graham and I on New Year's Eve two years ago were on the front line with the Ukrainian President looking right across at Russia that is what they were talking about. How for years ever since their independence Russia have tried to disrupt their elections they've done it in the Baltics they've done it really all over the world. And so now it's come here.

And the first thing we need to do when it comes to this information warfare is to make sure these paid political ads, which you have done in your bill in New York, are tracked and that the press and campaigns have an opportunity to see what exactly is going on. We have learned that Russians used Rubles to buy ads on Facebook and Twitter. We have learned just recently in the indictment of 13 Russians that they spent over one million dollars in just one month on this campaign. And what they do is they buy these political ads, they're fake ads, they're often criminal. Several of them told people they didn't have to vote in the African American community, they used African American faces on Facebook ads, they said if you want to go vote for Hillary, text this number. And of course that meant they suppressed the vote, and that is criminal, and that is why this is part of a criminal indictment from Special Counsel Mueller.

So what the bill does which is similar to New York is puts the same rules of the road in place for print, radio, and TV that you have now, and says you have to do the same things for ads if they're audio, if they're visual, if they're just a print ad one photo, you have to do the same thing. And you have to have a disclaimer that says that this is prepared and paid for by Amy Klobuchar or whatever candidate and you have to have a disclosure and that means that the ads are kept on file. And that was probably either digitally or on a file somewhere. That means that campaigns can look at them, that means that the press can look at them.

One of the most unbelievable moments of our hearing was when I asked the companies why the most brilliant companies in America, with the most brilliant minds working for them, why this is a problem to keep these ads digitally or in a folder on file. And they said it was just too difficult and I remember I said you know what, my radio station in Deep River Falls in Minnesota can do this so I don't quite get why you can't do it. So I think that disclosure piece of it is really important. Just think in the national campaign they were able to see those ads in real time, otherwise you're going to see them targeting ads in 10,000 Facebook pages in Ohio and we're never even going to see them. They're just going to vanish. So for me this is about upholding the fundamental democracy that was set up to avoid foreign interference in the first place. That is why America declared its independence. And that means simply letting the people of America know who's running ads and who's paying for them and then what they are. That is simply what they are doing here. And this idea that the states are getting out ahead isn't my ideal situation but it is the only thing that is palatable now because our bill is just waiting for action and the last thing I'll say is this is just the beginning. In the last election, $1.4 billion was spent on social media ads by campaigns. It is expected to go up to $3 to $4 billion. All the money is migrating there. So this isn't just about Russia. This is about campaigns because if you're going to run dark, dirty ads. Where do you think you're going to put them? You're going to put them on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites because then you can vary them and hide them if there's no rules of the road. So I'm very glad the Governor is taking the lead in New York. I hope this bill can pass because then it can set an example for what we have to do as a country. Thank you.

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