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Demonstrators attend a rally for voting rights

Protesters rally to demand congressional action to protect voting rights on August 28, 2021. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

'Complete Attack on Our Democracy': FEC Rules Foreign Corporations Can Donate to Influence US Elections

"Foreign donors shouldn't be influencing our elections, no matter whether it's at the federal, state, or local level, said Rep. Katie Porter.

Andrea Germanos

Democracy defenders expressed concern Tuesday in response to new reporting on a Federal Election Commission ruling that affirmed foreign entities—including overseas corporations—can fund U.S. state-level ballot campaigns.

"This is egregious," tweeted former Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner. "A complete attack on our democracy."

Axios reported on the FEC's 4-2 July ruling that concerned a Montana ballot initiative on hardrock mining regulations and accusations that a Canadian subsidiary of Australian company Sandfire Resources violated federal campaign law by funding a campaign opposed to the measure.

The FEC rejected the allegations, saying the ban on foreign donations regards "elections," but does not cover ballot initiatives.

The reporting drew the attention of Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), who tweeted: "Foreign donors shouldn't be influencing our elections, no matter whether it's at the federal, state, or local level. In my first term, I successfully amended #HR1, the #ForThePeopleAct, to outlaw these contributions, and I've introduced legislation this year to do the same thing."

Brendan Fischer, Federal reform program director at the Campaign Legal Center, referenced "a big loophole in the federal ban on foreign money in U.S. elections" because "the FEC interprets the law to apply only to races for elective office, letting foreign interests pour millions into state or local ballot measure campaigns."

Fischer pointed to the proposed elections and voting reform-related Freedom to Vote Act as a way to close that loophole—a legislative fix also called for by Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer.

Wertheimer said the last thing the American people want is foreign countries "being able to spend money on their own propaganda to influence important policy decisions being made by the voters in a state," Wertheimer said in a statement.

“Fortunately," he continued, "the sponsors of the For the People Act in the House and its successor in the Senate—the Senator Manchin compromise Freedom to Vote Act—foresaw the potential danger of this foreign intervention occurring and the legislation would prevent it."


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