Are Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Elton John breaking U.S. laws by allowing the British pop singer, a foreign national, to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign by performing a concert on her behalf?
That's the question Inside the Beltway put to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) today, which does not rule out the possibility.
First, some background supplied by the FEC: The goal of the 1966 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was to "minimize foreign intervention" in U.S. elections by establishing a series of limitations on foreign nationals. In 1974, the prohibition was incorporated into the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), giving the FEC jurisdiction over its enforcement and interpretation.
According to the FEC, FECA "prohibits any foreign national from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly. It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them. Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment."
The question now is whether Sir Elton is contributing "indirectly" to Mrs. Clinton's campaign and whether the candidate herself has sought to "solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations" from a foreign national, which is unlawful.
That said, the act does provide a volunteer "exemption" as long as the foreign national performing a service is not compensated by anyone. But this exemption gets tricky and might not apply to Sir Elton.
Consider that in a 1987 advisory opinion, the commission allowed a foreign national student to provide uncompensated volunteer services to a presidential campaign. By contrast, a 1981 FEC decision prohibited a foreign national artist from donating his services in connection with fundraising for a U.S. Senate campaign.
"There are a series of advisory opinions issued over the years surrounding situations kind of like this, but not exactly like this," FEC spokesman Bob Biersack told Inside the Beltway today. "That's the problem with an advisory opinion — they're not the same, but they do provide some sense of where the commission stands."
Mr. Biersack said he doesn't know if the Elton John performance would be considered unlawful by FEC standards. As of yesterday, only $1,000 and $2,300 seats remained for sale for the concert, scheduled for April 9 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
A complaint would have to be filed with the FEC before the commission could issue an advisory opinion, and even then it would remain confidential until completed, Mr. Biersack said.
That said, this column is unable to determine whether a complaint has already been filed, perhaps by the Barack Obama campaign.
This explains it
Astrologer Dave Bromberg of Chico, Calif., writes to Inside the Beltway to say that the time has come to let the rest of the world in on one of astrology's "juiciest" secrets: that every two years or so Mars and Jupiter are in sign opposition.
"When this happens senators will find themselves in direct contradiction in what they say and what they did; governors will have to disclose hidden sexual trysts; mayors will have their intimate text messages come to light," he reveals. "This is what is happening now that Jupiter is in Capricorn and Mars is in Cancer — and it will continue until the 9th of May of this year."
Streets of Philly
"Want to be in a music video for Hillary?"
That's the question posted on Sen. Hillary RodhamClinton's presidential campaign Web site, calling interested volunteers to "the streets of Philadelphia" on the afternoon of Saturday, April 5.
"You don't need to know how to sing at all! Just be enthusiastic, willing and available to be included in video footage," the posting encourages. "If you are of voting age and up, and would love to be a part of a song that mentions issues Hillary stands for, then we'd love to hear from you."
Mother of primaries
The registration deadline was midnight Monday for Pennsylvanians to vote in the pivotal April 22 Democratic primary, and given the unprecedented number of registered voters, expect a high turnout at the polls.
State election officials count a record 4.05 million Democrats who have registered to vote in the primary, the first time the 4 million mark was broken. Polls show Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton with a sizable lead over Sen. Barack Obama, although the latter is counting on the state's young people to come out and support him.
A recent Quinnipiac poll shows 63 percent of likely Democratic voters under age 34 supporting Mr. Obama's candidacy.
Speaking of Sen. Barack Obama, guess who's accepting "The Obama Challenge" to help all Americans pursue happiness and prosperity?
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, that's who.
"He is right. Americans must demand real change from elected officials," says Mr. Gingrich, who explains he will espouse further on the Obama challenge during a 12:30 p.m. address tomorrow at the American Enterprise Institute.
It all started when Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney noticed that some members of the press were not joining with lawmakers and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of House proceedings.
Among them, Heath Druzin of the Idaho Statesman, who later explained that while he does hold his hand over his heart he "internalizes" the Pledge.
Not patriotic enough, replies Mr. Denney, who fired off a letter to the head of the House press corps, Betsy Russell of Spokane's Spokesman-Review.
"Today we had media people on the floor of the House during the Pledge of Allegiance. It was noted by several members of the body and myself that they did not verbally participate in the Pledge," he wrote, suggesting reporters be kept out until the Pledge is recited.
Which prompted defiant responses from reporters like Jill Kuraitis, who admitted she doesn't say "under God" when reciting the Pledge because it mixes church and state.
Hogwash, reacts Bryan Fischer, executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, who argues that the Founding Fathers "established the political foundation of our form of government on the concept that our rights are an inalienable gift to us from the Creator."
Ask Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert and the entire matter is nothing more than "kerfuffle."
Surely, Mr. Fischer replies, the newspaperman must not be listening to Sen. Barack Obama, "who insists that words do in fact matter."
Which could help explain Mr. Obama's answer last year when he was asked why he stopped wearing a U.S. flag pin on his suit. His excuse was rather than allowing a pin to do his talking he would tell the American people how he feels about patriotism.
• John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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