Presidential election could see ‘unlimited’ foreign money thanks to little-known advisory for FEC rule change

Election officials warned about a discreet rule change at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that could see “unlimited” foreign funds pour into ballot efforts.

Thanks to an advisory opinion issued by the FEC this month, there would seemingly be no limits on donations that federal candidates solicit for ballot initiatives.

“That means if President Joe Biden is raising money for a state referendum on abortion, there are no limits to the donations he can request. If Donald Trump is raising money for a group to oppose such a referendum, the same would go for his campaign,” Daily Mail explained. “Federal campaign finance law prohibits foreign nationals from making donations in federal, state and local elections, though the FEC only interprets the ban as applying to candidates, not ballot initiatives.”

Jim Dornan, Director of Congressional Affairs at American Promise, is looking for limits in campaign spending through a constitutional amendment. He explained how the FEC rule change impacts election campaigns.

“Because the ballot initiative can directly coordinate with presidential campaigns, they can go door to door and say, please support our ballot initiative, and say by the way President Biden supports it as well,” he told Daily Mail.

“This decision opens the door to massive amounts of foreign and dark money flowing into our ballot initiative campaigns statewide, because a lot of states do not have restrictions like the federal government does on foreign donations to campaigns,” Dornan said.

Bans on foreign political spending have been passed in at least seven states over the last few years, with similar bills pending in seven other states.

A request from a Nevada-based abortion rights group sparked the current FEC rule change as the group hopes to get an abortion referendum on the ballot in this year’s elections. There is already an abortion measure on the ballot in Florida and an abortion rights group is working to secure the same in Arizona.

The FEC rule change could present a significant deciding factor in swing states with razor-thin margins on hot-button issues. More than two dozen states currently have abortion measures on the ballot for the fall.

“It’s absurd that voters must compete with out-of-state billionaires, partisan dark money groups, and even foreign actors to shape the course of their communities and their states. The FEC’s decision is undemocratic, unequal, and weakens the integrity of one-person-one-vote,” Dornan told Daily Mail.

“Biden can now basically raise money for a ground game, ie door to door, phone calls etc. on any pro-abortion or pro-choice initiatives, that the states put up and the money can come from almost anywhere,” he warned.

Before the FEC rule was finalized, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) expressed its disagreement.

“The risk of corruption inherent in direct foreign national contributions to candidates would simply metastasize to the ballot initiative context, with the same deleterious effect,” they argued.

“It’s a massive change along the lines of what Citizens United did, which is completely put up for grabs our campaign finance system and it’s gonna it’s not gonna go well,” Dornan predicted, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that reversed century-old campaign finance constraints.

 

Frieda Powers

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