How Foreign Countries and Trade Organizations Can Influence U.S. Elections

| by Michael Allen

The 'Citizens United' U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates for corporations to donate money to Super PACs, but beyond that cash is the election money rolling in from foreign countries via trade organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade association that represents hundreds of multinational oil and gas companies, including those in Saudi Arabia.

The Nation reports:

US law still bans foreign corporations from participating directly in elections. But after Citizens United, trade associations like API—whose influential members include foreign corporations—are free to spend as they wish, unburdened by disclosure requirements.

But as the 2010 midterm elections loomed, Citizens United handed API an additional arrow for its quiver. The group could now funnel undisclosed corporate donations directly to campaign entities. Among the oil executives leading API at the time—and still to this day—was Tofiq Al-Gabsani, a registered lobbyist for the Saudi government. Al-Gabsani is the chief executive of Saudi Refining Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, the government-owned Saudi oil giant better known as Aramco.

The ads bankrolled by entities like API helped deliver one of the greatest midterm election upsets in American history. For the first time, outside spending groups eclipsed party spending.