1

According the US laws, only US citizens may contribute financially to political campaigns - especially presidential campaigns.

Suppose you are running a campaign. How are you supposed to verify that donations from around the world are actually from US citizens?

For example, take a look at Pete Buttigeg's page. He accepts donations from every country on Earth. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/pete-buttigieg-announcement-day How can he be sure that they are actually from Americans?

(The question applies to donations from within the US too. There can be non-citizens in the US with US credit cards and addresses. How does a candidate ensure that they are actually citizens? To what extent is this required?)

  • You can see on that very page how Buttigieg does it - donors are told the rules and asked to donate only if they are eligible to do so. Their name and address are taken. I don't think the campaign is required to actually verify that they are citizens - there is no registry of all citizens that they would have access to. – Nate Eldredge May 29 '19 at 4:38
  • @NateEldredge yes there are rules, but how can they possibly be enforced? Let's say a donation comes in from Bulgaria. Can they just pocket the money, or does some investigation on the donor need to be performed? – CodyBugstein May 29 '19 at 4:50
3

See https://www.fec.gov/help-candidates-and-committees/candidate-taking-receipts/who-can-and-cant-contribute/, the section on "Foreign Nationals".

The Commission stated, in AO 1998-14, that the use of any surname on a contribution check (or similar instrument) would not, by itself, give any reason to inquire as to the person’s nationality. Nonetheless, the Commission advised the committee to take the following minimally intrusive steps to ensure that the contributions it received did not come from foreign nationals:

  • Ensure that public political ads and solicitations directed to audiences outside the U.S. contain a summary of the foreign national prohibition of 52 U.S.C. § 30121.
  • Make further inquiry into the nationality of the contributor if the committee receives a contribution postmarked from any non U.S. territory.
  • Make further inquiry into the nationality of the contributor if the committee receives a contribution indicating that either the bank or the account owner has a foreign address.

In all of the these instances, if the contribution is submitted along with credible evidence (for example, a copy of a valid U.S. passport) that the contributor is a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national or a permanent resident alien, no further inquiry need be made. However, if the committee has actual knowledge that the contributor is in fact a foreign national, it may not rely on these documents as a defense.

So, if the donor has been informed of the rules and gives a US address, the campaign can assume that they are eligible to donate, unless the campaign has actual knowledge that they aren't. If they give a non-US address, the campaign is supposed to get some other proof of nationality.

By the way, that page also explains that the first part of your question is slightly wrong. It isn't only US citizens who are allowed to donate - US nationals (a rather rare category consisting mostly of people from certain US territories) and permanent residents are also eligible.

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  • So basically, as long as you don't know forsure that the donor is not a US national, then you can assume he is. – CodyBugstein May 29 '19 at 5:09
  • @CodyBugstein No. If the donor has an address outside the US, the campaign is advised to make "further inquiry". A copy of a US passport would be sufficient response to that inquiry unless the campaign has actual knowledge that the person is not a US national. If the campaign fails to make such inquiry, and the person is not a US national, the campaign may have violated US law. – David Siegel May 29 '19 at 16:45
  • And if the donor [understandably] refuses to send a copy of his passport to an insecure unaccountable organization? What happens to the donation? – CodyBugstein May 29 '19 at 19:07
  • @CodyBugstein, Many organizations that make political contributions monitor accounting very closely to make sure the money coming in is not going to political candidates but to other programs unrelated to campaign contributions. I am aware of the NRA and Planned Parenthood both watching where money from one program is coming from and going too very carefully for legal reasons (The NRA was very much aware of donations from Russian citizens and kept those monies away from lobbying and political contributions. PP cannot use federal funding for abortions and is damned careful about that as well – hszmv May 29 '19 at 19:20
  • @CodyBugstein: If the donor can't meet these requirements to show that he is an eligible donor, then the campaign would have to give him back his money. – Nate Eldredge May 29 '19 at 19:46

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