It is illegal for foreigners to buy influence from US politicians. More specifically, it is against the law for foreign interests to contribute the the campaigns of US politicians. At the risk of being thought cynical, we’ll say that this just means that they simply need to find other ways to exert influence over US government policy and decisions.
The Clinton Foundation was a frequent target of accusations of influence peddling during Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary of state. As such, it is sort of a model for future such foundations. Whether the foundation and Mrs. Clinton engaged in illegal activities remains unproven. However, suspicions as well as demands for independent investigations abound and should occur.
We now have another instance where a foundation affiliated with a US Senator is coming under scrutiny for possible connections to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf nations.
This would be the McCain Institute Foundation.
Senator McCain, considered something of the “maverick” of the Senate for his willingness to embrace political positions in opposition to the Republican Party of which he is a member, may find himself under investigation for foreign contributions to the McCain Institute Foundation. While foreign donations to US foundations are not illegal, per se, they do call into question matters of conflicts of interest.
This issue got started when, “[a] nonprofit with ties to Senator John McCain received a $1 million donation from the government of Saudi Arabia in 2014, according to documents filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.”
As pointed out, foreign interests are prohibited from making campaign contributions, but are not prohibited from supporting foundations. “Though federal law strictly bans foreign contributions to electoral campaigns, the restriction doesn’t apply to nonprofits engaged in policy, even those connected to a sitting lawmaker. Groups critical of the current ethics laws say that McCain’s nonprofit effectively gives Saudi Arabia — or any other well-heeled interests — a means of making large donations to politicians it hopes to influence.”
While not illegal, it certainly looks suspicious. “‘Foreign governments are prohibited from financing candidate campaigns and political parties,’ Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist for ethics watchdog Public Citizen, said. ‘Funding the lawmakers’ nonprofit organizations is the next best thing.'”
That McCain’s foundation has not been entirely forthcoming with information about Saudi donations does nothing to offer assurance that everything is ethically sound. “The institute didn’t originally disclose the 2014 donation from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. After an inquiry from Bloomberg News, the website was updated to note that the institute received more than $100,000 from the Saudi embassy. Documents filed with the IRS state that the donation totaled $1 million.”
Will the McCain Institute Foundation turn out to be a source of suspicions of influence peddling in the same way that the Clinton Foundation is? Time will tell. If it does, Mr. McCain will share something else with Hillary besides both being unsuccessful candidates for president. Given his preference for the positions of Hillary Clinton over those of Donald Trump, the similarity between the two is unpleasant.