MapLight: Foreign Lobbyists Contributed More Than $4.5 Million to Candidates in 2016 Elections

Andrew Perez
Dec 4, 2017
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In all, during the last election, those lobbyists gave more than $4.5 million to federal lawmakers and candidates. Foreign lobbyists and their firms’ political action committees were also responsible for packaging a total of $5.9 million in donations for candidates and party committees, through an influence-enhancing tactic known as “bundling.”

Because the donations come from foreign governments’ U.S.-based lobbyists, they effectively circumvent American laws designed to bar direct foreign donations. Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibitedfrom donating to any federal, state, or local campaigns, or political parties. But foreign governments frequently hire U.S. citizens to represent their interests, and those people face no such contribution ban.

“I worry about foreign influence on our political system,” Larry Noble, general counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told IBT/MapLight. “One of the things that recent events are highlighting is the porous nature of a lot of our laws and a lack of enforcement.”

Noble, a former Federal Election Commission lawyer, said that donations by foreign lobbyists don’t often come from the lobbying firms or their PACs, but from individual members of the firm.

“When that happens, how do you know whether any of that money is being directed by lobbyists of the foreign national, or if it's coming out of money they got from the foreign national for that purpose? There are lots of ways for people to get illegal money to campaigns,” Noble said. “It’s not an easy thing to prove.”

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