FEC rules foreign companies can fund whatever state ballot measures they like

FEC rules foreign companies can fund whatever state ballot measures they like

You may have noticed, what with the Texas attorney general being under indictment for over half a decade and counting, sitting senators dabbling in insider trading as a side gig, and a certain pumpkin-headed Dear Leader being able to incite a crowd into violent insurrection with not a single resulting consequence, that “laws” in the United States generally no longer apply to rich people, powerful people, or anyone who has the personal phone numbers of either.

It’s no longer as much of a surprise as it might have once been to learn that things we in the general public might have just assumed were blazingly illegal are—surprise!—perfectly fine, so long as it’s mostly done by people who are richer than snot.

That may be an unfair portrayal of the news from the Federal Election Commission, but that’s what we’ll go with and the immortal and all-knowing powers that be can try to talk us down if anyone even cares to bother. In a just-reported decision, the FEC concluded that there’s technically no federal law against foreign nationals (or foreign companies) pumping money into the ballot initiatives that voters are asked to vote on each election cycle.

It’s illegal for foreign nationals to donate money toward elections. It is not, concluded the FEC, illegal to dump money into ballot measures (or, by extension, congressional redistricting itself?) because ballot measures are not technically “elections.”

Sure, fine, we’ll go with that. What it means in the specific case being ruled on is that Canadian subsidiary Sandfire Resources, an offshoot of an Australian mining giant, has the go-ahead to fund committees to oppose a Montana ballot measure tightening water pollution rules regulating the mining industry. In the general case, however, it means any foreign company can fund whatever state ballot measures they like. The Post reports that only seven states currently make that illegal; everywhere else, for now, is fair game.

So, for example, a Russian state-owned oil giant might start funding ballot measures to shut down American oil companies—not because of climate concerns, heavens no! But to prop up the price of the Russian version. (Just kidding: I’m fairly certain that the 5th Circuit has ruled that opposing an oil company is a death penalty crime.)

A foreign car manufacturer might, say, spend several truckloads of money on a ballot measure allowing a state to bust whatever unions might be causing special inconvenience when the time comes to renew labor contracts. (Just kidding: Car manufacturers don’t need to spend money to bust unions; all they have to do is ask and state legislatures will rewrite laws however they need to be rewritten.)

Any world power with a bit of spare change could, for that matter, fund pro-gun, pro-militia ballot measures in all fifty states just to screw with our national security a bit more than the homegrown versions have managed. There’s a political party who’d happily help, and a whole movement of people who would take time out from their pro-revolution and anti-vaxxer podcasts to jump on that bandwagon.

The good news is that this is near-instantaneously fixable. All that needs to happen is that Congress needs to clarify existing laws to bar foreign cash from influencing any ballot measure, rather than just races for elected office. Surely, we cough, that would be a bipartisan 10-minute effort that could be done by Christmas. Similarly, each state could close the loophole itself.

It’s not that we have anything against Australian mining companies, mind you. It’s just a bit problematic if we’re going to have not just American corporations and the American ultra-wealthy but every last billionaire and for-profit company on the planet all fighting to rewrite our laws through the state ballot initiative process that’s already been largely reduced to another propaganda playground. The opportunities for mischief here are near-endless—or would be, if the “end” wasn’t the natural endpoint of the world’s richest septuagenarians turning the world’s atmosphere positively Venusian in their bid to squeeze ten more bucks out of the end of the fossil fuel era.

Seriously, could we just fix this one without drama? Looking at you, McConnell. Looking at you, Manchin.

Wednesday, Nov 3, 2021 · 4:34:06 PM +00:00


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand moves quickly to introduce new legislation closing the foreign donor loophole. Sen. Marco Rubio says he will be introducing a similar bill.

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