Subsidiary reps question Franken-helmed letter on foreign influence

Subsidiary reps question Franken-helmed letter on foreign influence

The lobbying arm of U.S. subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies is taking issue with broad calls to crack down on the influence of foreign business in this country’s elections.

The Organization for International Investment (OFII) wants to know whether a group of 16 Senate Democrats support shutting down the PACs of subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies along with their larger push to shut down the influence of foreign companies in the U.S. political process. Those PACs consist of contributions from U.S. citizens employed by these subsidiaries, not foreign citizens.

A group of Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenFranken rules out challenge against Gillibrand for Senate seat Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (D-Minn.), sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission last week, applauding the agency's decision to consider a new rule regarding foreign companies’ ability to buy political ads. Democrats are raising the issue of foreign influence after recent reports that businesses headquartered abroad are fueling some of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s massive political ad buys this election. The Chamber gained the power to fund unlimited political ads after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision earlier this year lifting limits on business and union political spending.

Democrats in Congress tried to pass a bill requiring businesses and labor unions to disclose exactly which companies and unions were funding particular ads. The bill passed the House but could not attract enough support to get through the Senate.

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Every one of those senators except Franken has taken contributions from PACs of subsidiaries of companies headquartered abroad.

“…I write to express our deep concerns about your letter of Oct. 18 to the Commissioners of the Federal Election Commission regarding the role of U.S. subsidiaries of companies headquartered abroad in American elections,” wrote OFII President Nancy McLernon. “While we hope the breadth of its implications may have been inadvertent, as written, your letter inaccurately and unfairly portrays these corporations as a source of foreign influence in U.S. politics.”

It goes on to specifically question whether the senators meant to lump U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies into the debate over foreign influence because doing so would prevent the rights of employees and shareholders of these subsidiaries to organize PACs and fully participate in the political process.

A spokeswoman for Franken said the letter was speaking to the overarching issue of trying to stem the tide of foreign money in U.S. elections after the Citizens United decision and was not a formal comment letter to the FEC’s proposed rulemaking.

“…Our real concern here is not about PACs, which already have contribution limits by law,” said Franken spokeswoman Casey Aden-Wansbury. “Our concern is about foreign-controlled companies like Citgo or BP America being able to spend unlimited amounts of their treasury funds in our elections, with the FEC raising few, if any, barriers despite a regulatory ban against foreign nationals ‘directly or indirectly’ participating in election spending decisions.”

Durbin’s office said the two issues were completely different.

“This is apples and oranges,” said Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker. “PACs are registered with the FEC and their donations and activity is fully disclosed and made public.

"The U.S. Chamber can aggregate a bunch of companies' money, and you can’t tell if general treasury funds from foreign companies, not U.S. subsidiaries of them, are mixed in,” he said.

In fact, he said, the money the Chamber uses for its political advertising is “the opposite of transparent … hard to track, hard to see where it’s coming from and so [foreign companies’] ability to influence our elections is much greater and the money is unlimited.”

McLernon said all the senators on the letter could easily clarify their positions on the issue as well because all the senators have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of employees of these subsidiaries in their states.

“[Senators] have to protect the rights of U.S. citizens who work for these companies to participate in the political process,” she said. “We want to know whether the senators who sent the letter didn’t realize it would hit PACs or weren’t aware that their campaigns had taken money from these PACs.”