WASHINGTON (CN) – Foreign nationals cannot donate money to political parties, campaigns or political action committees, a three-judge federal panel ruled, dismissing a complaint filed by two Canadian citizens who challenged the so-called Alien Gag Law of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
Benjamin Bluman and Dr. Asenath Steiman argued that the law wrongfully blocked them from contributing to the last election, though they live, work and pay taxes in New York.
On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case
“The Supreme Court has long held that the government (federal, state, and local) may exclude foreign citizens from activities that are part of democratic self-government in the United States,” D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the panel. “For example the Supreme Court has ruled that the government may bar aliens from voting, serving as jurors, working as police or probation officers, or teaching at public schools.”
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina, who signed Monday’s decision, convened the panel to hear the case in January.
The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act reinforced past laws that prohibited foreign nationals from influencing U.S. elections. The law strengthened 1966 and 1974 attempts by Congress to block foreign nationals from donating to political parties instead of directly to candidates.
Bluman says he is a Harvard-educated associate with a New York law firm and a “passionate” Democratic supporter, according to his complaint. He had wanted to donate $100 each to Rep. Jay Inslee, Sen. Diane Savino and President Barack Obama in the last election.
Steiman, who is fulfilling her medical residency at the Beth Israel Medical Center and belongs to the American Medical Association, claimed she wanted to contribute $100 apiece to Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, the party’s National Senatorial Committee and the Club for Growth.
Alien Gag Law Violations carry a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and a five-year prison sentence, according to their complaint.
“We know from more than a century of Supreme Court case law that foreign citizens in the United States enjoy many of the same constitutional rights that U.S. citizens do,” the 18-page decision states, adding that other rights are withheld.
“In those many decisions, the Supreme Court has drawn a fairly clear line: The government may exclude foreign citizens from activities ‘intimately related to the process of democratic self-government.'”
Monday’s decision has limits, the judges said, noting that they did not decide whether Congress could constitutionally extend the statutory band to lawful permanent residents or whether it could prohibit foreign nationals from other political speech, like donating to outside groups that subsequently give money to candidates.
The panel also cautioned the government about fining and jailing Alien Gag Law violators.
“There are many aliens in this country who no doubt are unaware of the statutory ban on foreign expenditures, in particular,” Kavanaugh wrote.