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Foreign firms pouring millions into US elections

world Updated: Oct 19, 2010 00:15 IST
Dan Eggen

As Democrats and Republicans spar over whether foreign money is polluting the midterm elections, a simple point is often overlooked: Hundreds of foreign corporations already play an integral and perfectly legal role in American politics through their US subsidiaries.

Political action committees connected to foreign-based corporations have donated nearly $60 million to candidates and parties over the past decade, including $12 million since the start of 2009, federal contribution records show.

Top donors in this election cycle include PACs tied to British drugmakers GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, which together account for about $1 million; Belgium's Anheuser-Busch InBev, at nearly $650,000; and Credit Suisse Securities, at over $350,000.

The donations must come from US citizens or residents, and they make up a small fraction of overall political giving.

Nonetheless, the role of foreign companies and their US subsidiaries has become particularly sensitive in this year's midterm campaigns, which featured widespread voter dismay over the economy and eruptions of anti-foreign rhetoric from both parties.

But neither Democrats nor Republicans have drawn attention to PACs linked to global companies, a source of campaign funds that benefits both parties.

Overseas companies have a vigorous lobbying presence in Washington, and many of them played a prominent role in derailing Democratic campaign finance legislation that would have limited their US political activities.

The bill, blocked by Senate Republicans, would have classified more multinationals as foreign entities and, in early drafts, could have prevented them from having PACs.
Democrats attacked Republican candidates for supporting policies that they say encourage companies to move jobs overseas. Republicans responded with campaign ads alleging that the Democratic-backed stimulus bill had created jobs in China.

Despite the bluster, contribution records make clear that both parties benefit from contributions from US companies with roots in other countries.