It seems a long time ago now, but toward the end of the Clinton years, a major topic of conversation was about Al Gore having taken campaign money at a Buddhist temple. The public, or at least FOX viewers, were worked into frenzy about the possibility that he had accepted money from citizens of a foreign country, specifically China. No doubt there are still those who are convinced that Al Gore was doing the bidding of Communist masters from China and that the selection of George Bush by the Supreme Court saved us all from falling into domination by China. The irony that spending on the Bush wars and the Bush tax-cuts has pushed us deeply into debt to China is probably lost on these same people.
There have been other allegations of the same kinds of influence buying, including some concerning Obama. While the accepting of foreign funds seems to happen with both parties, the elevation to scandal by the media seems to happen only when it is a Democrat who is charged with accepting them.
All this may be a thing of the past. However, after the recent Citizens United Case, there seems to be little need for a foreign government to use any kind of subterfuge to buy influence in Washington; there is now an open door for them to do so. If a foreign country wants to buy advertising for or against a candidate for office in the U.S., it is entirely free to do so, provided it takes the step of forming a corporation for that purpose.
Suppose, for example, that China has become disenchanted with our labeling laws that require consumers to be informed of the country of origin. It seems U.S. consumers have been avoiding many Chinese goods because of experiences with poisonous pet foods and building supplies. China reasons that sales of Chinese goods are unfairly harmed by the pesky notice that they come from China.
So the Chinese government sets up a corporation to promote Chinese sales abroad; let's call it FairTruthiness Inc. FairTruthiness Inc. has been well funded by the Chinese government and has more than $400 billion to spend in the current election cycle. Some of this money they use to set up their Washington office and to hire a stable of lobbyists, one for each Senator and one for each Congressman and a few more to lobby the executive branch.
Every important politician who is up for election receives frequent visits from one of the lobbyists and is gradually informed that FairTruthiness Inc. is planning to spend $500 million on advertising in the upcoming election. The politicians come to understand that whether the advertising will be for or against them depends on their position on the all-important labeling issue. The politician is faced with a difficult dilemma -- how to weigh the loss of an election against the potential of a few constituent deaths.
This may sound far-fetched, but our Supreme Court has made all of this perfectly legal. It does not matter that corporations are foreign, only that they are corporations. That makes it legal for them to have their say in our elections. Apparently our strict-constructionist justices have found all of this in their understanding of the original intent of those who wrote our Constitution, for that is how they testified about their legal philosophy when they appeared before the Senate in their confirmation hearings.
One approach that has been proposed for limiting corporate spending of this kind is to require shareholder approval for political spending. While this might have some effect on our big industrial corporations, this would be useless against a shell corporation such as the one in the above example.