25

I'm not sure if this is the correct exchange to be posting this question, so apologies if this is not the right place.

I'm a US Resident, currently on a H-1B. I'm not a Green Card holder or a US National. I'm attempting to contribute to a candidate for the 2020 election but on the donation webpage, I see the need to certify that

I am a U.S. citizen or lawfully admitted permanent resident (i.e., green card holder).

I'm wondering if this makes me ineligible to make the contribution? Also what are the penalties for making a false declaration (I'm curious to know the law and reasoning behind this).

The other side question is about buying bumper stickers and the like from the candidate's online store, I'm presented with the same declaration. Is buying merchandise also included in the scope and is it similarly illegal for me to have a bumper sticker on my car?

Lastly are there ways for me to legally sidestep this requirement? A couple of thoughts that I have are

  • My infant son is a US Citizen, could I contribute in his name?
  • Could I ask a colleague at work who is a US Citizen to make the contribution and pay him?

I'm not looking to do anything illegal as I don't want to adversely impact my future immigration application. In answers I'm looking to better understand the relevant provisions in law and the possible rationale of excluding legal residents and if it can be sidestepped while still staying in the boundaries of the law(s).

  • You might be able to create a company and then donate on behalf of the company, but the law seems vague about this... – spacetyper Jul 2 at 8:42
  • Considering that the decision you make (whether or not to financially support a candidate) has as a distinct possibility the ability to affect you (and your family) is a very permanent and disruptive manner... taking the advice of random strangers on the Internet (via StackExchange) seems very dangerous. Seek real legal advice or don't do it. – CGCampbell Jul 24 at 13:24
42

Under US law, only US citizens or permanent residents may contribute to political campaigns. Since you are neither, you may not contribute to a US political campaign and no campaign may accept your contributions.

Also what are the penalties for making a false declaration (I'm curious to know the law and reasoning behind this).

If you specifically falsely claim to be a US citizen: false claims of citizenship for the purposes of any state or federal law make you deportable from the United States and permanently barred from reentering. The only exception is for certain people who believe for good reason that they're citizens (both parents have to be current or former citizens and the person must have lived in the US before they turned 16). Falsely claiming citizenship is also a crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison.

If all you say is "I am a citizen or permanent resident," that might not be a false claim of citizenship. However, other penalties can still apply: if your lie resulted in the campaign treasurer making an incorrect FEC disclosure you might get charged with making false statements, sufficiently large contributions result in direct criminal liability, and there are other theories that could result in prosecution as well. You can also be subject to a civil penalty, as can the campaign.

Lastly are there ways for me to legally sidestep this requirement? A couple of thoughts that I have are

  • My infant son is a US Citizen, could I contribute in his name?
  • Could I ask a colleague at work who is a US Citizen to make the contribution and pay him?

Both of these are illegal in their own right. It's still considered you making the contribution (which is illegal), but it's also specifically illegal to make a contribution in the name of someone else or to pay someone to contribute. Again, this might be prosecuted criminally or it might result in a civil penalty, depending on various circumstances.

It's also worth noting that there's pending legislation (which has passed the Senate but not yet been taken up in the House) that would, if enacted, make any noncitizen who violated campaign finance laws to interfere in any US election both deportable and permanently inadmissible.

  • Thanks for your answer, it appears that the penalties are rather stiff. Do you have any thoughts about making purchase for merchandise on their online store having these same restrictions? – nikhil Jul 1 at 3:17
  • 6
    @nikhil It’s a campaign contribution whether they give you merchandise for it or not. – Joe Jul 1 at 12:28
  • 2
    A good link to include in the answer is the FEC's own page on this exact issue: fec.gov/help-candidates-and-committees/… – cpcodes Jul 1 at 23:54
  • 2
    I find it quite scary if buying, say, a hat, could result in getting deported! Is there really no specified (smallish) size of permitted (and possibly accidental) donation? – nigel222 Jul 3 at 12:43
  • 1
    As an aside, and ONLY relating to the bumper sticker/merchandise issue, email them and tell them this story. I will eat my sock if they don't offer to send you one free of charge since you can't legally purchase one. Anyone volunteering for a campaign that isn't moved by your support, respect, and willingness to follow our laws shouldn't be involved in politics. :p – AHamilton Jul 24 at 8:04
14

Is buying merchandise also included in the scope

If the money goes to the campaign, yes. Presumably they are putting the notice there because the money is going to the campaign. E.g. Kamala Harris' campaign sells t-shirts and uses the proceeds to support the campaign.

I'm not sure what happens if you, as a foreign national, exhibit merchandise advertising a candidate. One of the complaints around the Citizens United decision was that it might allow foreign corporations to purchase merchandise to support a candidate. Justice Samuel Alito was adamant at the time that it would not do that.

The basic idea is that United States elections should be financed by people in the United States, not people or corporations from other countries. You may not feel that you belong in the same class as Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un, but from the legal standpoint, there is no difference. All are in the category of "not US citizens" that cannot spend on US campaigns. Without that, someone like Putin could give an individual some money and ask the individual to contribute. A more limited rule would then require that the US prove the Putin association to convict on the inappropriate contribution charge. This rule is much simpler to enforce.

  • 1
    @MartinBonner They might be more about advertising but they're at least partly about making money. – David Richerby Jul 1 at 13:07
  • 6
    The choice of prepositions in "should be financed by people in the United States, not people or corporations from other countries" is just about the worst possible one, given that this question is about what someone who is from another country but in the USA can do. – Peter Taylor Jul 1 at 14:13
  • 1
    @nikhil given that only citizens can vote, some may feel that non-citizens even those resident in the US shouldn't be able to influence the election directly – eques Jul 1 at 17:32
  • 3
    @nikhil but a "Green Card" represents a permanent (or presumably permanent) state compared to a visa holder which is presumed temporary (even if fairly long-term). So the argument could be made to allow Green Card holders to donate even though they cannot vote because they do have some vested interest in the country since they will remain here longer. – eques Jul 1 at 19:25
  • 1
    @MartinBonner If there was an independent retailer selling politically themed merchandise, I don't see how that in itself would be a problem. The issue would likely be finding someone who is legally making and selling those products without giving a cut to the campaigns. – JMac Jul 2 at 13:02
4

You can't contribute toward an election, but issue activism is the loophole. If you like the candidate because they's good on issues, find a organization that agrees with you on the issue -- the NRA, for instance, is awash in Russian money. If you like the candidate because they's a personal friend, find a nonprofit that donates to them, and donate to that nonprofit. If you like the candidate because you want them to do something in exchange for the donation, that's why we have the law.

  • If you like the candidate because you want them to do something in exchange for the donation, that's why we have the law. – I don't get how this relates to the question on whether one is a US national or not. Why should US people allowed to do this? – Paŭlo Ebermann Jul 2 at 20:16
  • 1
    It's a collective. Money is one way we enable candidates that we like, to effect the change we want to see. I'm not going to defend this system, but that's how I understand it. If you're not a permanent resident or citizen, you're not part of the collective, and you may well be acting on behalf of a foreign power. – Ion Freeman Jul 2 at 20:36
  • 1
    Saying that NRA is "awash" in Russian money is outrageous. According to your source, they received "$2,512.85 in contributions and membership dues from people associated with Russian addresses.” That's not even guaranteed to be unethical. Every Fortune 500 operates in Russia and has an office in Moscow. Many of them are staffed by some Americans. So this is not even unusual. – grovkin Jul 3 at 19:45
  • 1
    @grovkin indeed. I'm no fan of the NRA, but I find two and a half grand from "people associated with Russian addresses" to be frankly small potatoes, and, as you note, probably entirely legitimate. Not only do some US citizens live in Russia, but many Russian citizens have green cards (making them eligible to donate to federal campaigns) yet may remain "associated with Russian addresses." – phoog Jul 4 at 1:53
  • Thank you for defending the NRA's honor. The point that as an advocacy organization it can accept donations from foreign nationals stands. – Ion Freeman Jul 12 at 16:33
4

FEC has a page detailing foreign nationals' rights in this regard.

It's not long. And it aims at informing the general public (so no specific prior legal knowledge is required). Although, for the interested, it does have the relevant legal references.

For example, despite some of the comments, a foreign national may not "direct, dictate, control, or directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process with regard to any election-related activities. Such activities include, the making of contributions, donations...

3

According to FEC.gov only citizens and green-card holders can spend money or donate things of value. As a non-resident you are prohibited from:

  • Making any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or making any expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement in connection with any federal, state or local election in the United States;
  • Making any contribution or donation to any committee or organization of any national, state, district, or local political party (including donations to a party nonfederal account or office building account);
  • Making any disbursement for an electioneering communication;
  • Making any donation to a presidential inaugural committee.

However you can volunteer your time, as long as you aren't making decisions involving money:

Generally, an individual (including a foreign national) may volunteer personal services to a federal candidate or federal political committee without making a contribution. The Act provides this volunteer "exemption" as long as the individual performing the service is not compensated by anyone.

It also looks like you might be able to work at the polls in Georgia and Idaho, those are the only 2 states which don't require you to be an eligible voter to do that.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .