By BEN FREEMAN
In a critical--though unheralded--decision to protect the sanctity of the U.S. political process, a DC district court on Monday granted the Federal Election Commission's (FEC) motion to dismiss a case that, combined with the Citizens United ruling, would have allowed foreigners to pump unlimited amounts of money into U.S. elections.
The plaintiffs, Benjamin Bluman and Asenath Steiman, both foreign nationals living in New York City, have been fighting for nearly a year to overturn the FEC prohibition against foreign national election contributions, as laid out in Section 441e of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). They relied largely upon the Citizens United case to argue that the prohibition violates their freedom of speech.
But, the court found that precedents set forth “a straightforward principle: It is fundamental to the definition of our national political community that foreign citizens do not have a constitutional right to participate in, and thus may be excluded from, activities of democratic self-government.” And, “Spending money to contribute to a candidate or party or to expressly advocate for or against the election of a political candidate is participating in the process of democratic self-government.”
The court’s decision does not prohibit temporary residents from engaging in issue advocacy or speaking out on public policies— it simply does not allow them to do so with money. And, as the court notes in its decision, “plaintiffs’ home countries—Israel and Canada—and many other democratic countries impose similar restraints on political spending by foreign citizens.”
The plaintiffs, nonetheless, told Politico that they will appeal the decision directly to the Supreme Court. Thus, the battle to protect U.S. sovereignty will now go to the institution that declared money is speech in the Citizens United case. Hopefully, this time around the high court will rule in favor of democracy.
Ben Freeman is POGO's National Security Fellow.
Image by Flickr user bradipo.