As we've reported, the Supreme Court's decision last month in the Citizen's United case means that U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies now can spend unlimited amounts on independent expenditure campaigns supporting or opposing candidates. It's true that the court left untouched a separate law prohibiting foreign nationals, including corporations, from spending on elections -- likely what Justice Alito had in mind during his Joe Wilson moment at the State of the Union speech last week. But there's little doubt that that ban doesn't cover the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies, or to foreign-owned corporations that incorporate in the U.S.
Democrats, backed by the White House, sensed a political opportunity in the wake of the court's ruling, and quickly sprung into action, drafting legislation to fix the problem. A bill by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), reports the Wall Street Journal, "would ban spending by any U.S. subsidiary of a foreign company or any U.S. corporation that has foreign debt, one or more non-U.S. director or any foreign ownership, which are common practices."
One trade group representing the domestic subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Sony is already lobbying to stymie the effort, the Journal reports. And they're getting support from top Republicans. In a speech on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell simply cited the existing law to declare that foreign corporations "are strictly prohibited from any participation in U.S. elections," and to label President Obama "completely wrong" for suggesting otherwise in the State of the Union. As for the issue of U.S. subsidiaries, or of foreign companies that incorporate here, McConnell -- a longtime foe of efforts to get corporate money out of politics -- didn't bother to address it.
In other words -- lest there be any doubt -- Republicans are now willing, essentially, to stand up for the rights of foreign corporations to influence American politics.
Good to have that on the record.