- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Uh oh

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) yesterday, 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 the British pop singer 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 as spelled out above are both 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 Elton John.

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 yesterday. “That’s the problem with an advisory opinion — their not the same, but they do provide some sense of where the Commission stands.”

As for the Elton John concert, scheduled for April 9 at Radio City Music Hall in New York — as of yesterday, only $1,000 and $2,300 seats remained for sale — Mr. Biersack acknowledges “I don’t know” if the performance would be considered unlawful by FEC standards.

To find out, Mr. Biersack said 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.

That said, this column is unable to determine whether a complaint has already been filed, perhaps by the Barack Obama campaign.

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