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Fighting Foreign Money

Checking a Box to Curb Foreign Influence

The Problem:

Dark money groups spend millions to sway our elections yet conceal the identities of those who actually cut the checks. Before Citizens United, dark money groups accounted for just 2% of outside spending. Now it’s over half. Trump has made the situation worse, creating a dark money loophole that allows these groups to even avoid disclosing their donors to the IRS. Without any disclosure, it’s hard to tell definitively if foreign funds are being used to interfere in our elections.

The Plan:

Require dark money groups and SuperPACs to certify that they are not using foreign money for election activities. This requirement would simply add a checkbox to standard IRS and FEC forms, requiring these groups to certify under penalty of perjury that no foreign money is being spent on electioneering activities.

The Penalty:

If outside groups like the NRA fail to check this box after taking millions in foreign money — or if they check the box and still allow foreign money to be used for electioneering — their corporate officers would be held criminally liable. Similar to filing a fraudulent tax return, checking the box inaccurately and intentionally would be considered perjury and subject to up to a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison. The entity would also lose its tax-exempt status if it inaccurately checks this box.

The Details:

Current law allows dark money groups to shield the source of their funding if they certify their non-profit status with the IRS. These certification forms (Form 990) are already filed by political groups organized under sections 501(c)(4), (c)(6), and 527 of the tax code. By adding an additional checkbox to Form 990, these groups would be forced to certify that they are not using foreign money for domestic campaign purposes. Groups would also be required to certify to the FEC that no foreign money is used for independent expenditures or election communications.

The Roadmap:

This proposal builds on Governor Bullock’s roadmap for getting Big Money out of politics:

  • “Check the Box” to Curb Foreign Influence
  • Ban SuperPACs
  • Empower Watchdogs to Enforce Our Campaign Laws
  • Pass Federal Disclose Act to End Dark Money
  • Executive Order to Crack Down on Dark Money Nationwide
  • Build the Movement to Overturn Citizens United