SCOTUS: Foreign Corporations Have Rights, Too!

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Politico‘s Josh Gerstein has a great story today pointing out that, in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, there’s really nothing to stop foreign companies from supporting or opposing US candidates. It would be as easy as setting up a US subsidiary and having the subsidiary spend the money. Some of Gerstein’s sources argue that foreign corporations would be reluctant to interfere in US politics because it could bring bad press. But that doesn’t seem like much of a deterrent to the worst corporations. Do foreign corporations like Gazprom that are largely state-owned really care what the US press writes about them? Law professor Mark Kleiman has more

One aspect of the ruling that hasn’t gathered much attention: as far as I can tell, the analysis doesn’t distinguish between domestic and foreign corporations.  Not that it would matter much, since a foreign corporation can always establish a domestic subsidiary, or buy an American company:   Cities Service, for example, is a unit of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company.  So the ruling allows Hugo Chavez to spend as much money as he wants to helping and harming American politicians.   If the Russian, Saudi, and Chinese governments don’t currently have appropriate vehicles for doing so, you can count on it:  they soon will.

Nor is this a problem that can be handled by “disclosure.”  The ad on TV praising the opponent of the congressman who did something to annoy Hugo Chavez won’t say “Paid for by Hugo Chavez.”  It will say “Paid for by Citizens for Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” which in turn will have gotten a contribution from “Americans for Niceness,” which in turn will have gotten a contribution from a lobbyist for a subsidiary of Cities Service that no one has ever heard of.

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