January 9, 2012 / 5:30 PM / 7 years ago

Top court backs foreigner campaign donation ban

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court rejected on Monday a free-speech challenge to the longtime ban on campaign contributions by foreign citizens who temporarily live and work in the United States.

The justices affirmed a ruling by a three-judge federal panel that upheld the ban adopted by Congress to keep foreigners from financially influencing U.S. elections.

The court’s last federal campaign finance law ruling was in January 2010, when it gave corporations the free-speech right to spend freely to support or oppose candidates.

President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats in Congress criticized that ruling while Republicans praised it.

The new challenge was brought by two foreign nationals who temporarily live in the United States and want to contribute money to certain political candidates. One wanted to support Obama’s 2012 re-election bid.

They said in their lawsuit that the law at issue violated constitutional free-speech rights under the First Amendment.

They argued that the law unconstitutionally restricted their right to contribute to candidates or national political parties, to finance campaign advocacy and to make independent expenditures advocating Obama’s re-election.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, their attorney, Michael Carvin, said the three-judge panel’s ruling sets a “dangerous precedent on campaign finance regulation, the First Amendment and the constitutional rights of resident aliens.”

The case involved Benjamin Bluman, a Canadian citizen who attended Harvard Law School and now works as an attorney for a New York law firm. He has lived in the United States since late 2009 and can remain in the country until November 2012.

In addition to seeking to make campaign contributions, Bluman wanted to spend money to express his political views, seeking to print flyers that support Obama’s re-election and to distribute them in Central Park.

The case also involved Dr. Asenath Steiman, a dual citizen of Canada and Israel who is completing her medical residency at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

She has lived in the United States since June 2009 and can remain in the country at least until June of next year.

Steiman wanted to donate to the Club for Growth, a politically conservative organization that advocates lower taxes, limited government, less government spending and economic liberty. It backs candidates who have these views.

The U.S. Justice Department said Congress adopted and then amended the law over the past 50 years in response to specific incidents of foreign interests seeking to spend money to sway American elections and government decisions.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told the Supreme Court that invalidating the ban would allow millions of foreign nationals in the United States to spend unlimited amounts on election advocacy and contribute money directly to candidates, even at the behest of hostile foreign governments.

The Supreme Court in a one-line summary disposition of the case affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court case is Bluman v. Federal Election Commission, No. 11-275.

Reporting By James Vicini. Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Paul Simao

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