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Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Foreign Money, National Security, And The Midterm Elections"

Simon Johnson:

Foreign Money, National Security, And The Midterm Elections, by Simon Johnson: Campaign contributions by non-citizens are a huge issue lurking behind the midterm elections; they will be even more important in 2012. Think about the economic dynamics:

  1. Americans have a long-standing and well-founded aversion to foreign involvement in their politics, and it is well-established that this can happen in part through corporate “commercial” structures. Thomas Jefferson objected to Alexander Hamilton’s plan for a national bank in part because he feared this would become a stalking horse for the British in some form...
  2. The Supreme Court has determined that corporations can make political contributions virtually without limit, apparently not understanding or not caring that (a) management has a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, (b) globalization means more foreign shareholders on average..., and (c) at the margin, key strategic shareholders – the people who provide extra capital when the chips are down – increasingly tend to be foreign. Think about the role of Sovereign Wealth Funds in providing funds to our banking system in 2007-08...
  3. During the Reagan years and again, even more, under the Second President Bush, the US ran a large current account deficit – reaching 6 percent of GDP before the 2008 crisis (and still around 3 percent of GDP). You may think this a technical detail that is largely irrelevant to the political process, but you would be wrong. We finance our current account deficit with capital inflows from abroad or, to put that more plainly: Foreigners buy and hold financial assets in the United States. Some of those assets are US government obligations but traditionally and increasingly non-US people have also acquired claims on corporate entities – including common or preferred stock.

There are good economic reasons to allow foreigners to buy financial assets in the United States. ... And there is nothing wrong per se with running a current account deficit – although it would be much better if we used the inflow of foreign capital to finance investment, rather than (as in the Bush years) tax cuts that just further encourage overconsumption.

Irrespective of how you feel about foreign capital inflows in economic terms, you have to face the political reality. As foreigners accumulate claims on the United States, they will increasingly diversify into corporate assets... Some of these corporate assets explicitly come with voting rights – but those are supposed to be voting rights over the corporation (or investment fund), not voting rights in political elections.

We have effectively enfranchised foreigners in US elections. This is clearly and absolutely not what the drafters of the Constitutions had in mind. ...

The only way to deal with this is to require complete disclosure by all corporate entities ... regarding the contributions they make to any organization or individual involved in political messaging or campaigning. To be sure, this would be onerous. Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues would have wanted it no other way. ...

And however you prefer to define our legitimate national security interests, how are they consistent with letting foreign citizens influence or even determine the outcome of our elections?

I agree, we need complete disclosure from corporations on their political contributions (and I'd add contribution limits), and I don't think you have to argue that it allows foreign influence to make this case. The undue influence over elections given to corporations through non-disclosure and the ability to make unlimited contributions is enough for me.

    Posted by on Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 11:34 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (7)


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