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 FrankenGOP Senate candidate says Trump, Republicans will surprise in Minnesota Peterson faces fight of his career in deep-red Minnesota district Getting tight — the psychology of cancel culture 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.

The other senators on the letter include: Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Bottom line Polls show big bounce to Biden ahead of Super Tuesday MORE (Calif.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownMnuchin says he and Pelosi have agreed to restart coronavirus stimulus talks Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Remote work poses state tax challenges MORE (Ohio), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Feinstein 'surprised and taken aback' by suggestion she's not up for Supreme Court fight Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death MORE (Ill.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election Jon Stewart urges Congress to help veterans exposed to burn pits MORE (N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump, Biden renew push for Latino support Sunday shows - Trump team defends coronavirus response Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' MORE (Ore.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (N.J.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police When 'Buy American' and common sense collide MORE (R.I.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate Democrats introduce bill to sanction Russians over Taliban bounties Trump-backed candidate wins NH GOP Senate primary to take on Shaheen Democratic senator urges Trump to respond to Russian aggression MORE (N.H.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Democratic senators ask inspector general to investigate IRS use of location tracking service MORE (Ore.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Feinstein 'surprised and taken aback' by suggestion she's not up for Supreme Court fight Hillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime MORE (R.I.).

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.”