Jan. 28, 2010 -- President Obama's State of the Union swipe at the Supreme Court's recent decision on corporate political contributions has focused fresh attention on concerns that foreign money could creep into American elections.
The president decried the 5 to 4 ruling, in part because he said it would open the door not only for corporations to spend on political campaigns, but potentially open the door for foreign interests as well.
"Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities," he said. "They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong."
Obama's contention stems from one of the more controversial aspects of the decision in the case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court found that corporations should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts on political commercials on the grounds that they should be treated just like individuals when it comes to First Amendment rights.
The problem, some election lawyers have said, is that it's much tougher to determine whether foreign money is behind a political ad when the check is cut by a multi-national corporation.
But not everyone believes the foreign money concerns are well founded. Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC commissioner said the law already protects against foreign money entering the political system, and the new court ruling does nothing to weaken those protections.
"The President's swipe at the Supreme Court was a breach of decorum, and represents the worst of Washington politics -- scapegoating 'special interest' boogeymen for all that ails Washington in attempt to silence the diverse range of speakers in our democracy," said Smith, who now chairs the conservative advocacy group the Center for Competitive Politics.
Last week, Democrats in Congress said they believe a clear ban on foreign-owned companies from donating should be part of broad legislation being crafted to respond to the court decision and restore some restrictions on political contributions. The White House said last night that its lawyers would be deeply involved in those efforts.