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Did Romney disqualify himself by accepting foreign cash?

Aug 14, 2012

In mid June, shortly before Mitt Romney’s foreign trip, John McCain gave an interview to PBS in which he said a curious thing. Criticizing billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s gigantic donations to GOP candidates and their Super PACs this year, he said, “Much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits come to him through his casino in Macau.”

Pressed as to the implications, McCain continued: “Which says that, obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign—to American political campaigns.”

This is significant because just this January the Supreme Court held that while Citizens United allows corporations and people to donate anonymously and in unlimited quantities to campaigns through Super PACs, foreign cash is strictly forbidden in American elections. Collecting campaign money from foreign nationals is actually a felony that disqualifies you from an election.

Shortly after, Mr. Romney left for a trip abroad, where he held fundraisers in London and Israel. According to reports before the events by HuffPo and Washington Post both events were intended for Americans living abroad. But as The Guardian noted Romney decided to completely blockade the Israel event from press, including U.S. press, and the transparency he’d promised around the foreign fundraisers turned into total opacity.

We don’t actually know who donated what. While Citizens United does say that no foreign cash is allowed to enter elections, it also allows Super PACs to accept money without disclosing donors through a tricky set of loopholes involving a special tax-exempt non-profit filing status. Romney will have to disclose donations to his actual campaign accepted at the foreign fundraisers, but if foreign nationals gave money to Super PACs being run by people in attendance, we’d have no idea. So while Citizens United forbids foreign money, it can’t enforce accountability on the issue.

So far Romney has resisted releasing tax returns beyond the two years required of him. In that, he’s playing by the rules. But if foreign money made its way into Super PACs, Romney would be able to break the rules and potentially never get caught. If accepting foreign cash is forbidden and disqualifies a candidate from an election, there should be some disclosure requirements to make sure groups aren’t accepting foreign cash. But there aren’t.

As for McCain’s assertion that foreign money is finding its way into the election via Sheldon Adelson’s casino in Macau, it’s a gray area at best: American corporations are allowed to donate to U.S. candidates, but what about multi-nationals like Coca-Cola, who make big chunks of their money abroad? Is Coca-Cola beholden to any foreign interests due to its international business, and does that influence its election investments? How do you separate the “domestic money” from “foreign money”?

This is probably why in his interview McCain called Citizens United “the most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court I think in the 21st century.”

And while the focus here is on Romney, we should really be demanding accountability from all candidates. Is it possible foreign cash could have entered the coffers of Obama Super PACs? How would we know? Are we supposed to take it on faith?

If Citizens United is going to forbid foreign cash from Super PACs, it also needs to require full disclosures with no loopholes, so we can see who donated what. Otherwise why bother forbidding it?

Just another reason why the current campaign finance system is completely absurd and corrupt to the core.

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