The U.S. Supreme Court Monday took a step back from its new expansive view of campaign spending as protected free speech, ruling against foreign nationals who wanted to make contributions to candidates for public office and political organizations.
After dismantling campaign spending restrictions on corporations in its 2010 Citizens United decision, the justices issued a terse one-sentence ruling that slammed the door on an effort to allow foreigners who legally reside in the U.S. to spend money on politicians.
The Supremes affirmed a lower court ruling against Benjamin Bluman, a Canadian citizen who wanted to make donations to Democrats, and Asenath Steiman, a dual citizen of Canada and Israel who supports Republicans and wanted to donate to anti-tax Club for Growth group.
Bluman and Steiman argued in a case against the Federal Elections Commission that they are entitled to First Amendment protection as legal, temporary residents of America, though they are not U.S. citizens. They sought to overturn a prohibition on foreigners from making campaign expenditures in support or against a candidate and campaign contributions to political parties and outside groups.
The issue was on the minds of the Supreme Court's four liberal justices who dissented in Citizens United, which dealt with corporate campaign spending near Election Day, rather than political spending from foreigners.
Former Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the strongly-worded dissent, said his colleagues in the majority would afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans.
The notion that Congress might lack the authority to distinguish foreigners from citizens in the regulation of electioneering would certainly have surprised the Framers, whose obsession with foreign influence derived from a fear that foreign powers and individuals had no basic investment in the well-being of the country, Stevens added.
Despite silence from the majority on the issue of foreign campaign spending, a three-judge panel for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided in August that the majority opinion in Citizens United is entirely consistent with a ban on foreign expenditures.