- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Federal Election Commission squelched a Democrat-led effort Thursday to ban foreigners from being able to contribute to state ballot initiative campaigns, with Republicans insisting they have no power to impose their will in this area.

The six-member FEC split along party lines, and the tie 3-3 vote effectively killed Democrats’ hopes of extending an existing ban on foreign contributions in candidates’ races to state and local ballot questions.

But the commission showed more unanimity in assisting well-heeled presidential campaigns, voting 6-0 to say wealthy donors can pay their own valet tickets and bar tabs without having to list them as in-kind contributions to political committees.

State ballot initiatives have gained attention in recent years as citizens, fed up with gridlock in their legislatures, turn to the process to force changes.

But Democratic commissioners said they feared foreigners, who are generally banned from contributing to candidates, are still allowed to influence ballot questions.

“I mean, think of it, do we want [Russian Prime Minister] Vladimir Putin or drug cartels to be influencing American elections? The commission shouldn’t,” FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel said.

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She pointed to a case where a foreign national who operated adult-oriented websites had contributed to a 2012 ballot measure in Los Angeles that mandated pornography film actors wear condoms.

But the commission’s three Republican members said even if they wanted to crack down, the FEC doesn’t have jurisdiction to do so, because the law only allows it to regulate elections.

Commissioner Lee Goodman read the definition of “election” aloud, and said ballot initiatives just don’t qualify.

“The term election means A, a general special primary or runoff election; B, a convention or caucus of a political party which has authority to nominate a candidate; C, a primary election held for the selection of delegates to a national nominating convention of a political party; and D, a primary election held for the expression of a preference for the nomination of individuals for election to the Office of President,” Mr. Goodman said. “Period. End. That’s the end of our definition.”

He added, “I don’t know how you get referendum in here.”

Republicans said it’s up to Congress to give new guidance if it wants to crack down on initiatives.

“I am not at all opposed to the concerns that you have and the red flag that you have raised about foreign influence in state and local ballot initiatives,” Vice Chairman Matthew Peterson told Ms. Ravel. “This comes down to what can I as a commissioner do? And at this point I think that this is in Congress’ court.”

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