31 January 2010

Bill introduced to keep foreign countries out of U.S. elections

With the recent decision that "corporations are people" and can contribute $$$ to political campaigns, it seems appropriate that a bill has now been introduced (by Senator Al Franken, D-MN) to prevent that right from being extended to foreign coporations, or those significantly influenced by foreign interests:
"Since 1974, federal law has banned foreign companies from giving or spending in American elections. Nothing in our current laws, however, explicitly prohibits foreign companies from creating American subsidiaries or getting control of American companies and using them to flood the airwaves in support of their preferred candidates. Citizens United gives companies unlimited power to do that - and does not distinguish between American companies and companies that are owned or controlled by foreign interests..."
Sounds good to me, at least in principle.   What is the counterargument?


  1. HOWEVER, the US has such an extraordinary influence on the rest of the world that it is arguable that the right to vote in the US elections should be extended worldwide. I think that to refuse corporations the right to influence these elections on the basis that they are not American is to misunderestimate the degree to which they are influenced by them, as democracy is based on the idea that if you are governed (even, perhaps, indirectly) by a body, you should have a say in controlling it.
    I wonder if that is quite clear. Restated: there is not sufficient difference in the effect of America on an American organisation to that upon a foreign one to deny that the latter has any rights in relation to the government of America.

  2. I have difficulty imagining that I would agree with our favorite comedic senator on any topic - but I will comment on this question.
    First, foreign nationals (individuals or corporations) have been prohibited from contributing to campaigns here for at least 50 years. That is unchanged. Second, at the moment, US corporations are still limited in their contributions to campaigns - just as individuals are limited.
    The change that came from the Citizens United v FEC decision is that the limitations on independent expenditures by corporations concerning an issue or candidate as included in McCain Feingold were unreasonable and violated the First Amendment free speech provisions. The question of independent expenditure by foreign corporations was not addressed in the decision.
    It was ironic (and very rude) when President Obama attacked the Supreme Court in the State of the Union address since he didn't seem to understand the recent Court decision - and he spent twice what Candidate McCain spent in his campaign (and much from foreign sources) and more than Bush and Kerry combined in 2004.
    My personal belief is that most campaign finance limitations should be viewed as violating free speech and have been put in place primarily to favor incumbents. It is a tough question, since most of the corruption of our system begins with campaign contributions. I do not have a good answer for this. My best suggestion is to have immediate full and public (internet) disclosure of who gives and who gets - and let the public decide if a contribution or pattern of contributions should impact their voting decision. An active media eye to this sort of thing would help - oh never mind.
    I know, Stan Freeberg said ask a simple question and you get a pageant.

  3. My personal belief is that most campaign finance limitations should be viewed as violating free speech and have been put in place primarily to favor incumbents.

    This kind of fast and loose campaign financing law requires millions upon millions of dollars to participate on any serious level. Now it will be even worse, and that's bad considering our politicians are already basically bought and paid for by wealthy special interests. I find the idea that involving even more money to buy candidates and influence/misinform the public through propaganda will help earnest, upstart politicians *bizarre*. It's blindly obvious that this kind of perversion of justice will only benefit the tiniest sliver of our population: The wealthiest.

  4. Obviously, it's not crystal clear, so we mine as well clear it up.

    LA Times: "Election-law experts say neither claim is quite correct. Although foreign corporations cannot directly put money into U.S. races under the ruling, their U.S. subsidiaries may.

    Among the multinational companies with lobbying operations in Washington are Swiss drug makers, German manufacturers, Japanese and Korean automakers and British aerospace firms. Under FEC rules, a U.S. subsidiary of a foreign company could spend money on congressional races, but only if the subsidiary earned the money in the U.S. and its American employees decided on how to spend it.

    The regulation says: "A foreign national shall not direct, dictate, control, or directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process" for spending money on campaigns.

    But many question whether the FEC could police election-spending decisions by multinational firms."

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  6. [previous deleted for editing]
    Note to Steve - the McCain Feingold restrictions gave more power to the incumbents, the parties and the news media - with particular limitations against issue ads in the last 30 days before an election. The new decision gives corporations and labor unions (usually not on the same side) relief from what I consider to be a bad bill. I think the public wins here. But real disclosure must come with the deal. Do not take a narrow view of corporations - they may be an organized association of smaller voices coming together to have a bigger voice.
    I agree with you that money is a problem in politics - but giving power to the incumbents, media and parties and taking it away from anybody else is, to me, not the right answer.
    First amendment limitations were put in place particularly for political speech. I have to vote with the First Amendment.
    Thank you for your alternative opinion.

  7. Nah I can't agree with you Ho hum, hum ho! because there is no real way to calculate the impact that the US has other countries - while it far more easier to calculate what foreign corporations spend on campaigning/lobbying, or whatever it is.

    So even if what you say is true (I would agree that it somewhat is), there is no way to quantify it.

    And to just because US political decisions have an influence on other countries doesn't imply that other countries don't have an impact on the US. Maybe the Chinese SHOULD have a vote? Japanese even?

    Its all a bit fuzzy isn't it.

  8. Or the other way around - haha - that we should have a vote in the Japanese and Chinese (HA) elections.


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