Franken offers bill to limit foreign influence in U.S. elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Less than an hour before President Obama began his State of the Union remarks last night, Sen. Al Franken introduced a bill aimed at curtailing foreign influence in U.S. elections, a measure prompted by a Supreme Court ruling last week his office said overturned not just federal campaign finance laws but also a 20-year-old Minnesota law prohibiting corporate spending on elections.

A short time later, Franken gained a powerful ally.

“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities,” Obama said. “They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.”

Franken’s bill would ban election spending and contributions by corporations primarily financed by foreign nationals, whose boards of directors or stock ownership are controlled by a majority foreign nationals. Companies that allow foreign nationals to participate in political activities like political action committees would also be barred.

All other companies would be required to disclose exactly how much of their firm is controlled by foreign nationals or, if they can’t, how much of their financing comes from foreign nationals.

It remains a point of debate as to just how last week’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned hosts of campaign finance regulations, including those on corporate contributions, would affect rules on campaign donations from foreign nationals.

Obama said during his State of the Union that the ruling would “open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” prompting Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to mouth “not true.”

Franken’s bill was developed in consultation with Hamline University School of Business Professor David Schultz, who called the ruling an “attack on democracy and fair elections.”

“It undid laws seeking to regulate corporations across the country and in Minnesota that go back over 60 years,” Schultz said in a statement. “As a result of it corporate money will flood into Minnesota, threatening the basic integrity of our elections and the power of citizens to control their own government. Senator Franken’s bill is an important first step in addressing Citizens United and preventing money from further destroying our elections in Minnesota.”

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/28/2010 - 03:25 pm.

    I agree that Franken’s bill is a good first step.
    Given the Supremes ruling that ‘associations of citizens’ have 1st amendment rights, political contributions should be limited to corporations ALL of whose members are U.S. citizens.

  2. Submitted by Richard E Massey on 01/28/2010 - 04:06 pm.

    Out of the total membership of the United States Senate, who is the one that introduces the legislation to prevent foreign interests from influencing our Democratic Election process.
    The Honorable Gentleman from Minnesota.
    Senator Al Franken.
    Remember how much money got spent to keep Al Franken out of the Senate?
    A Kings ransom. All the money the GOP could possibly raise.
    We have a fine Lawmaker in the Senate with Senator Al Franken there to keep an eye on those who would do us wrong.
    Senator Franken is doing us all proud. Not just the fine folks from Minnesota. All 50 States worth of being a great Senator.
    He should be on the ballot for Most Valuable Senator even if it’s his Rookie year.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/28/2010 - 04:26 pm.

    Senator* Franken’s staff should read 2 U.S.C. 441e(b)(3) to the Senator* before he blunders again.

  4. Submitted by David Brauer on 01/28/2010 - 09:57 pm.

    Um, Al Johnson – Soros is a U.S. citizen. Unless you’re suggesting corporations should be able to give money but naturalized citizens shouldn’t.

  5. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 01/29/2010 - 08:53 am.

    Um, David Brauer – Soros and the fund for which he has fiduciary responsibility has a substantial offshore component. So the real question is where do we draw the line with our proposed attribution rules. Soros is a US citizen that makes personal political contributions for the betterment of his funds assets under management, no question about it. So under legislative grace his tiered partnership model has (or will upon passing of this bill) substantially more leverage to influence legislation via political contributions than the corporate structure. Where does this bill stop in attribution, there are far to many or’s from the statement above. Who is going to track this the SEC? Will this limit foreign investment to corporations?

  6. Submitted by Rod Loper on 01/29/2010 - 09:57 am.

    This gets at only part of the problem, altho it
    should shut up the republicans who squealed for
    months about Al Gore’s visit to a Buddhist temple.
    The problem lies in the fallacy of corporate personhood. Fix that.

  7. Submitted by shaun laden on 01/29/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    There is big support for keeping foreign influence out of U.S. elections as soon as this case presents a possibility of that happening. But why not a companion bill to keep U.S. influence out of foreign elections? What’s good for the goose…

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 01/30/2010 - 09:48 am.

    I’ve written Al Franken to ask that he enter Senate versions of the seven House bills created by Alan Grayson to counter the likely abuses we’ll face because of the Supreme Court Decision.

    See his web site for a description of the purpose of each bill.

    NOTE: Mr. Soros’s foundation exists to support human rights, civil rights and a free press worldwide. It is only natural that, if he makes campaign contributions, it is to politicians who share his values. As Bill Gates no doubt supports politicians who, like him and his wife, seek to reduce suffering around the world.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/31/2010 - 01:43 pm.

    Mr. Swift:
    2 U.S.C. 441e(b)(3) concerns “foreign nationals”, not necessarily corporations, unless the Supreme Court held that a corporate donation came under the heading of an indirect donation by a foreign national.
    It is not clear that the current court would so decide, which is the point of the proposed legislation.

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