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How A Foreign National Could Fund An American Campaign

Photo credit: Pictures of Money / Flickr

A pile of money, July 23, 2014.

How A Foreign National Could Fund An American Campaign


Matthew J. Strabone, attorney, Strabone Law


Every election cycle seems to bring ever more money into political campaigns — local, state and national.

The trial of Jose Azano Matsura in San Diego federal court for allegedly illegally funding, through straw donors, the campaigns of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former Mayor Bob Filner, illustrates how candidates might be tripped up by the lure of campaign cash.

But it's possible to avoid getting caught altogether. Illegal campaign funders, such as foreign nationals like Azano, can just follow the rules of the Federal Election Commission, leap through gaping loopholes and funnel big bucks to any election campaign in the U.S. That's the case even if you’re Vladimir Putin, said Matthew Strabone, a San Diego-based attorney who advises campaigns on compliance with election rules.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the Citizens United case and others affirmed that money is the same as speech and corporations have the right of free speech.

Those rulings, combined with federal election laws, made it possible for anyone anywhere in the world to set up a limited liability corporation, which could directly fund a super political action committee — or PAC — supporting a candidate. Set up that LLC in Delaware, and voila: The super PAC is not obliged to disclose the source of its funds.

The FEC, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, has thus far declined to close that hole despite calls for reform (Download Acrobat Reader here) from many sides.

Here at home it’s not as easy to keep money dark, thanks to the stricter rules of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which, Strabone said, is more proactive than the FEC and requires more disclosure of funding sources.

Strabone discusses money in politics on KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday.

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