31 Oct Why Can’t Obama’s Aunt Contribute to His Campaign?
As we enter in the election home-stretch, there have been some tit-for-tat allegations about foreign money ending up in presidential candidate coffers. The GOP has filed this complaint with the FEC alleging Obama to have accepted more than $30 million in questionable donations (the document cites a speech by Libya’s Moammar Ghadafi for support). Obama has returned the favor, including the nice tidbit that the McCain campaign solicited a contribution from the Russian Ambassador to the United States. That will teach fundraisers from using the Foreign Affairs subscriber list! And now there’s the flap over Obama’s undocumented alien aunt, who apparently gave $265 to his campaign/
Some noncitizens can give money as individuals. Title 2 USC § 441e allows permanent resident aliens to donate to federal campaigns. But other noncitizens are barred from political campaign contributions.
What’s the matter with foreign money?
The standard answer would be: foreigners shouldn’t be able to influence our elections. But that just begs the question. Since the rest of the world is affected by the results of US presidential elections, why shouldn’t they be afforded some channel of influence. It’s a matter of basic democracy theory. There have been a flurry of press stories and polls relating to foreign preferences in this election (overwhelmingly favoring Obama), all along the lines of, a world wanting to vote. (The Economist has ginned up a global electoral college; here are the global poll numbers from Foreign Policy, and here’s a blog called “Voices Without Votes: Americans Vote. The World Speaks.”)
Extending truly universal franchise in presidential elections is a nice thought experiment, but ultimately not very practical. Allowing donations would seem somewhat more plausible, at least in terms of the logistics. Of course, foreign donors would be subject to the usual constraints, including dollar caps on individual donations. So we wouldn’t have to worry about a foreign magnate trying to buy off candidates any more than a domestic one. Foreign magnates, in any case, already have their own nontransparent channels of influence. So it might be more in the way of regulating influence rather than creating it; and letting the non-plutocrats of the world have their say, too.