Jan. 25, 2010 -- Rep. Chris Van Hollen said Monday that Democrats are crafting legislation to prevent foreign owned corporations from funneling money into American political campaigns, saying the prospect of overseas influence is a "big danger" in the aftermath of a landmark Supreme Court opinion that changed the rules for political fundraising.
"There's a big danger that the decision opens the door to foreign owned corporations indirectly spending millions of dollars to influence the outcome of U.S. elections through their American subsidiaries," Van Hollen, D.-Md., told ABC News. "The American people should be deeply concerned. This decision raises all sorts of questions."
Van Hollen said a ban on foreign-owned companies from donating will be part of broad legislation being crafted by Democratic leaders in Congress, in consultation with the White House. Van Hollen and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., will be drafting the bill, which will try and unwind the court's action.
Thursday's opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political commercials on the grounds that corporations should be treated just like individuals when it comes to First Amendment rights.
The problem, former Federal Election Commission Chairman Scott Thomas told ABC News, 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.
"There are unfortunately lots of examples where foreign businesses or governments have tried to route money through U.S. subsidiaries and into party coffers," Thomas said. "Now we're permitting businesses to get involved directly in advocacy messaging. There will have to be a lot more scrutiny on the question of whether the money is coming from a foreign source, and whether it can be constrained."
Not everyone sees a threat. Some election lawyers have argued that the Federal Election Commission already has sufficient rules in place to prevent foreigners from exerting influence on domestic politics. For instance, a foreign-owned corporation paying for issue advertising -- which was legal prior to last week's ruling -- could only do so under direction from an American citizen (or green card holder), and only using money raised by an American subsidiary.
"The FEC has a bunch of rules on this," said Jan Baran, a Republican election lawyer. "They say that companies can only use money they earn here in the U.S.. They can't have a foreign entity send in the money with the goal of making a contribution."
In writing for the majority of the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the issue did not need to be dealt with in deciding the Citizens United case.
Van Hollen said Monday he believes the court "opened the door to it" and he thinks Congress needs to respond.
" We have been very clear that we think it is totally inappropriate for foreign contributions to be influencing the outcome of American elections," he said. "It's a shocking result if left unchecked."