Our Constitution guarantees the right to vote to all qualified citizens of the United States – but voting, and direct participation in our political process, should be open only to those who are citizens of the United States. We must be careful lest our political system be seen by foreign interests as a carnival in which all can participate and get the results they seek, even if those results weaken American interests, our national unity, and our national security. In an era when money is fungible, it becomes tempting – and too easy – for foreign interests to influence our elections unless we remain vigilant against these threats.
While we welcome foreign investment in the United States to bring jobs and innovation, we are concerned about the potential – and past – influence of foreign money on our political process. It is against Federal law for foreign governments, foreign nationals, or companies controlled by foreign nationals to give money to political campaigns in the United States.
We encourage common-sense steps to ensure that this law is followed and that only money contributed by U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents may be used in political campaigns in this country.
- First, campaigns themselves must be vigilant that they do not accept this money and take appropriate steps to maintain the security of campaign websites, including websites that accept contributions. This requires appropriate due diligence and, on occasion, may require asking difficult questions of donors or potential donors and reporting of suspected or actual violations. That may be challenging, as campaigns do not want to risk alienating donors, but it is necessary to comply with the law.
- Second, the rise of 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations and groups that are not required to disclose their donors present opportunities for abuse and for the infiltration of foreign or foreign-controlled money into our campaign finance system. Worse, because these organizations do not have to disclose the ultimate origin of their funding, the opportunity exists for foreign money to seep into our system undetected. The danger is even worse given that so many of the advertisements run by these organizations are negative “attack” ads. Is it possible that some attack ads may be run because a candidate or public official has taken a position in favor of American interests rather than those of a foreign government or corporation? We simply cannot take that risk.
- Third, under current law, American subsidiaries of foreign companies may legally form Political Action Committees and contribute money to U.S political campaigns. These PACs had raised $14.1 million by October 2014 for the mid-term elections. While we support the rights of all Americans to become involved in the political process, we believe it is time for a debate about whether these PACs are simply too connected to foreign interests to be legitimate contributors, as PACs, in the political process.
- Fourth, because it can be so difficult to enforce the prohibition on foreign or foreign-controlled money being contributed to American campaigns, we believe prosecutors should treat any violations seriously, encouraging self-reporting of honest mistakes by campaigns but treating willful violations of the law with great importance and aggressive prosecution.
Finally, we note that the tremendous influence of money in politics and the need to raise ever-increasing amounts of money can take lawmakers and public officials away from their duties – even when those duties involve national security. The incident last fall of a United States Senator skipping a classified briefing by the Director of National Intelligence on important national security threats to attend a political fundraiser is shocking. And it was very likely not the first such incident. Reducing the role of money in politics will enable lawmakers to focus on their duties for the good of the country and our national security rather than the never-ending quest for cash.
We need to take back our campaign finance system to ensure that foreign interests do not influence it through otherwise illegal donations. Our government and our national security is weaker when our system is vulnerable to foreign influence when those of other countries are not.