Axios: FEC lets foreigners finance U.S. ballot fights

November 2, 2021

The Federal Election Commission has ruled foreign donors can finance U.S. referendum campaigns, opening the door to foreign spending on fights over high-profile policy issues, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Foreign nationals are barred from donating to U.S. political candidates or committees. But the FEC’s decision — allowing them to support ballot committees — provides another avenue for foreigners to directly influence U.S. voters and domestic policy.

  • A major question stemming from the decision is whether foreign nationals are now permitted to spend money to influence the actual mechanisms of the U.S. democratic process.
  • That would include congressional redistricting, which is frequently subject to ballot referenda.
  • The FEC’s ruling did not address that question, meaning it will likely be litigated in future fights at the commission.

The decision only concerns federal law; states remain free to outlaw foreign funding for state-registered ballot committees.

  • Seven states already do so.
  • In Maine, where a Canadian-owned power company is financing a ballot committee pushing for new energy transmission lines, Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, recently vetoed legislation to ban foreign ballot measure funding…

Driving the news: In a 4-2 vote in July, the FEC ruled ballot initiatives are not “elections” under existing federal law, and therefore the foreign donation prohibition doesn’t apply…

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