The Federal Election Commission, the federal agency charged with overseeing US elections and yet paralyzed by partisanship, will host a first-of-its-kind public forum Thursday on the threat posed by foreign-influenced corporations that spend on American elections. The meeting comes less than one month after the kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced it would make a $3.5 billion investment in Uber, the US-based ride-hailing service and ubiquitous election spender. Now, as the specter of foreign influence comes to haunt even our local elections, the government entity with the most to do at a time when its power is declining has put the issue squarely before the public-policymaking consciousness.
Americas Founders were rightly worried about foreign powers influencing our democracy. The Constitution bans anyone who holds any office of profit or trust from accepting any foreign present, emolument, office, or title . . . without the consent of the Congress. Current federal law upheld by the Supreme Court as recently as 2012 prohibits foreign governments, foreign-based companies, and people who are not US citizens or permanent residents from contributing or spending money in connection with any federal, state, or local election. But theres a loophole: These foreign entities can invest money through US-based corporations that, per the Citizens United ruling, can then spend as much of that money as they want on American elections.