The Democrats' 'Foreign' Money


Democrats have thoroughly pounced on the Chamber of Commerce in the past few weeks after ThinkProgress reported that the traditionally-GOP-supportive Chamber takes in membership dues from multinational corporations, but it appears Democrats have taken "foreign" money associated with foreign companies too.

The Hill's Mike O'Brien and Hayleigh Colombo report that Democrats have raised over $1 million from political action committees affiliated with foreign companies:

House and Senate Democrats have received approximately $1.02 million this cycle from such PACs, according to an analysis compiled for The Hill by the Center for Responsive Politics. House and Senate GOP leaders have taken almost $510,000 from PACs on the same list.

The PACS are funded entirely by contributions from U.S. employees of subsidiaries of foreign companies. All of the contributions are made public under Federal Elections Commission rules, and the PACs affiliated with the subsidiaries of foreign corporations are governed by the same rules that American firms' PACs or other PACs would face.

"This is not foreign money per-se, but these PACs are certainly populated by people who work for foreign companies," said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Foreign nationals are barred from making political contributions in the U.S. under federal election law--hence the notation that these PACs round up donations from American citizens only.

$1.02 million, spread out over the entirety of the Democratic legislative caucuses, is not a whole lot of money. It takes tens of millions of dollars to win a Senate campaign and, in many cases, a million or two to win a competitive House race. The significance here is not so much the impact of the money, but the stain it allegedly leaves and the "hypocrisy" Republicans have pointed to in calling attention to this story today.

About that hypocrisy: we're in murky waters here when it comes to the "foreign"-ness of all this money, on both sides.

While these donations were rounded up from American citizens, PACs affiliated with the U.S. subsidiaries of multinational corporations headquartered abroad, presumably, would conduct their political activities for the welfare of both the subsidiary and the foreign-headquartered parent. So no, the money itself is not "foreign," but the way it's being spent could be.

As for the Chamber's money: the group has been adamant that these are membership dues from multinational corporations that are not spent on U.S. political activities. There is a firewall, according to the Chamber. The Chamber's chief lobbyist has said that 115 foreign-member affiliates pay less than $100,000 in total membership dues. ThinkProgress rests its claim on the fact that this money goes into the Chamber's 501(c)6 arm, the same account, ThinkProgress reports, that the Chamber uses to fund its political activities. If we are to take the Chamber at its word here--and the AP has pointed out that there's no evidence the Chamber uses this money on politics--then the "foreign" political money charge remains hazy.

The morals of this whole exchange seem to be: 1) beware of claims of "foreign" money, and 2) if you're going to jump all over claims of "foreign" political donations, it's best to think about what could be considered "foreign" money flowing into your own party's coffers.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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