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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It just got easier for cybersecurity toolmakers to offer campaigns help — but only by a little.

The big picture: Cybersecurity firms have flocked to provide free services to state election authorities, and some want to help protect political campaigns, too. But those efforts have been in legal limbo thanks to the complexities of election finance law.

Driving the news: The Federal Election Commission issued its final of a series of clarifying decisions last week: Firms may offer political campaigns the same discounts they offer other customers, but only non-profits can provide campaigns with free services or deals special to the campaigns.

Why it matters: Though much of the political focus has moved to voting machines, that wasn’t what Russia hacked in 2016. Rather, it targeted campaigns and political groups — and getting their defenses correct in 2020 is critical.

Details: The FEC had been weighing whether Area 1, a phishing security company, and Defending Digital Campaigns, an election security non-profit, could offer free services to campaigns.

  • Last week the FEC decided that Area 1 could offer the same discounts to campaigns it offers to everyone.
  • In May, the FEC said Defending Digital Campaigns (DDC), as a non-profit, could offer free services.
  • Companies that want to cut prices for campaigns still generally can’t.

The intrigue: Several firms already offer free services to state election groups — including Microsoft, Cloudflare, Google and Synack — and it’s easy to think democracy would be better served if campaigns could get security tools for free, too.

  • But the way campaign finance laws are written, this would open the door for analogous groups to argue they too should be able to offer free services.
  • Smith & Wesson, for instance, could start offering free physical security.
  • The FEC’s position is that any kind of carve-out from regulations for a specific industry like cybersecurity is a matter for Congress to decide.

Area 1's case was unique, because both the FEC and Area 1 agree that offering the same pricing to campaigns as to everyone else is explicitly legal. But Area 1's unusual pricing scheme made campaign lawyers nervous, Area 1 CEO Oren Falkowitz told Codebook.

Agari, which provides a different type of email security than Area 1, adjusted plans to offer its wares for free to campaigns. It will now offer free services via non-profits like DDC.

  • Agari chief marketing officer Armen Najarian believes the restrictions in the FEC ruling will actually benefit both campaigns and companies.
  • The deluge of free services in 2016 posed a problem for election officials who didn't have the industry savvy to know which products were snake oil and which were legit.
  • That led many states to pass on useful freebies.
  • As Najarian sees it, the FEC decision will inadvertently allow non-profits to work as a kind of snake-oil filter.

Go deeper

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 19 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.