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Foreigners Rejected by U.S. High Court on Campaign Spending Ban

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on campaign spending by foreigners, declining to take up a case about money and politics before this year’s election.

In a one-line order, the justices today rejected an appeal by two citizens of other countries who live legally in the U.S. as non-permanent residents and say they want to become more politically active.

The case offered the court’s conservative wing, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, a chance to extend a 2010 ruling that said corporations have a free-speech right to spend on campaigns. The five-justice majority in that case said it wasn’t deciding whether the ban on spending by foreign individuals and companies was constitutional.

Federal law bars immigrants who aren’t permanent residents from making campaign contributions, spending money independently on election issues or donating to advocacy groups that are active on campaigns. A three-judge panel upheld the law in August, saying Congress had legitimate reasons for barring foreigners from putting their money into the U.S. political system.

“Temporary resident foreign citizens by definition have primary loyalty to other national political communities, many of which have interests that compete with those of the United States,” U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote.

One of the people challenging the law, Benjamin Bluman, is a Canadian citizen who said he wants to print fliers supporting President Barack Obama’s re-election. The second challenger, Asenath Steiman, is a dual citizen of Canada and Israel who said she would donate money to Club for Growth, a Washington group that supports anti-tax candidates.

Paternalism Cited

“Americans deserve to hear what resident aliens have to say and are free to consider or ignore it when they exercise their exclusive right to vote,” Bluman and Steiman’s lawyers argued. The ban “paternalistically ‘protects’ them from this choice.”

The Obama administration argued that the lower court reached the right conclusion.

“With respect to participation in the political process, the distinction between citizens and aliens is grounded in this court’s decisions, in centuries of history and in the fundamental significance of American citizenship,” U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued.

In its brief to the court, the administration called for a relatively narrow interpretation of the 2010 ruling, saying its reasoning didn’t affect the foreign-national ban.

Obama took a different tack during his 2010 State of the Union address, when he said the ruling “will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

The case is Bluman v. Federal Election Commission, 11-275.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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