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.

{mosads}A group of Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Al Franken (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 Boxer
(Calif.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Byron Dorgan
(N.D.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Patrick
Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Patty
Murray (Wash.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Ron Wyden
(Ore.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (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.”

Tags Al Franken Barbara Boxer Dick Durbin Jack Reed Jeanne Shaheen Jeff Merkley Kirsten Gillibrand Robert Menendez Ron Wyden Sheldon Whitehouse Sherrod Brown

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