Election Commission Clears Foreign Funding in Bill Lobbying

Election Commission Clears Foreign Funding in Bill Lobbying voting booths in gymnasium (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

By Eric Mack | Tuesday, 02 November 2021 12:44 PM

While foreign donors cannot contribute to election campaigns, they can lobby with cash for bills in states that permit it, the Federal Election Commission has ruled.

The FEC's 4-2 ruling in July, yet to be released publicly, determined foreign nationals — individuals, corporations, and even governments — can poor money into ballot measures, because it is not directly funding election campaigns, Business Insider reported.

The case before the FEC revolved around an Australian mining company donating to fund a ballot measure in Montana, a move that concerned critics.

"This FEC decision reflects a big loophole in the federal ban on foreign money in U.S. elections," Campaign Legal Center's Brendan Fischer told Axios.

Federal law blocks foreign entities or persons from contributing to U.S. election campaigns, but they can pump money into legislative bill campaigns, according the FEC ruling.

"Are we, as U.S. citizens, really OK with letting foreign money go directly to state lawmaking via citizen initiative campaigns?" David Brooks, who lost his challenge in the Montana-based case, told Axios in a statement.

There are seven states that have banned this type of foreign funding — California, Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington, according to Axios.

The Federal Election Campaign Act "regulates only candidate elections, not referenda or other issue-based ballot measures" and "spending relating only to ballot 3 initiatives is generally outside the purview of the Act," the FEC's analysis declared, according to the report.

"The FEC has now officially said this is fine, this is OK," Campaign Legal Center's Aaron McKean told BI. "Really, it's pretty upsetting, and it goes against the mission of the FEC to protect our elections."

The FEC is opening the door to more foreign influence in U.S. politics with this ruling, McKean lamented to BI.

"It's years later, and we're still having the same problems with foreign money in our elections," he said. "And it's something that the FEC could fix by themselves. It's their interpretation of the law that is allowing foreign money to get into our elections.

"The important thing here is that people at all levels of government recognize this is the problem. This is self-governance."

"There are state laws, there are local laws that are trying to patch up these loopholes, and it really hurts when the FEC essentially blesses this loophole," McKean concluded.

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