Free Speech For People counsel, Scott Greytak and Harvard Law Professor, Laurence Tribe, co-authored an op-ed posted to The Boston Globe today on how foreign political money infiltrates U.S. elections through corporate political spending. The piece is timely given tomorrow‘s FEC panel, hosted by FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub on this exact topic, titled “Corporate Political Spending and Foreign Influence.”
To read the full op-ed from Tribe and Greytak, click here.
America’s Founders were rightly worried about foreign powers influencing our democracy. The Constitution bans anyone who holds “any office of profit or trust” from accepting any foreign “present, emolument, office, or title . . . without the consent of the Congress.” Current federal law — upheld by the Supreme Court as recently as 2012 — prohibits foreign governments, foreign-based companies, and people who are not US citizens or permanent residents from contributing or spending money in connection with any federal, state, or local election. But there’s a loophole: These foreign entities can invest money through US-based corporations that, per the Citizens United ruling, can then spend as much of that money as they want on American elections.
Earlier this month, a multi-billion dollar investment deal with Uber and the Saudi Arabian government raised flags and now a bigger conversation is taking shape around the role of foreign money and corporate political spending.
On June 1, Uber disclosed an unprecedented $3.5 billion investment from the Saudi Arabian government. Aside from its stock ownership, which totals more than 5 percent, the kingdom bought itself a seat on the company’s board of directors. That’s disturbing for many reasons that have already attracted national discussion, such as Saudi Arabia’s atrocious human rights record. But what many people don’t realize is that the investment opens up an “Uber loophole” for the kingdom, through its share of the ownership and control of Uber, to spend unlimited amounts of money on American elections. Last month, Uber teamed up with fellow ride-hailing service Lyft to unload $9 million on an election in Austin, Texas. The tech giants fought, unsuccessfully, to overturn a local law requiring drivers to submit to fingerprint-based criminal background checks. Nine million dollars can go a long way in a local election — it crushed Austin’s previous record for election spending seven-fold.
Austin wasn’t Uber’s first fight, and it won’t be its last. The company recently spent roughly $600,000 on a voter referendum in Seattle, nearly $700,000 in California, $300,000 in Washington, D.C., $200,000 in Maryland, and $70,000 in Oregon. It’s engaged fleets of lobbyists — 250 by one count, nearly one-third more than Walmart — in 45 of the nation’s 50 state houses, and it has invested heavily on multiple fronts in major US cities, from New York City to Los Angeles, Chicago to Atlanta.
Scott Greytak blogged about the investment on our site, here.