Million-Dollar Foreign Donation to Pro-Romney Super PAC Raises Legal Questions

Monday, October 08, 2012
V. Prem Watsa, founder and CEO of Fairfax Financial


Foreign businesses and individuals are barred from contributing to U.S. election campaigns. But what about an American firm that’s foreign owned, such as the one that gave Mitt Romney $1 million?


The legality of such a gift has been raised in light of the million-dollar donation to Restore Our Future, a Pro-Romney super PAC, from reinsurance company OdysseyRe of Connecticut.


OdysseyRe is entirely owned by Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited of Canada, which was founded by Indian-born V. Prem Watsa, who’s known as the Warren Buffet of Canada. Watsa serves as CEO and chairman and owns or controls 45% of the company.


U.S. law prohibits any foreign national from “directly or indirectly” contributing money to influence U.S. elections. But the law is unclear on whether U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies can help finance campaigns.


Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) wants to do something about foreign-controlled corporations “exploiting loopholes in existing law” to sway the outcome of American elections.


“You can bet that wholly owned subsidiaries of foreign commercial entities have an agenda when they spend millions to sway the outcome of an election,” Whitehouse told The Center for Public Integrity. “And you can bet that agenda is not promoting the interests of middle-class American voters.”


Foreigners have also gotten around the campaign donation restrictions by donating to international trade associations, which are allowed to contribute to U.S. candidates.


In 1996, President Bill Clinton was harshly criticized for accepting campaign funds from China and South Korea. But what was a scandal in 1996 is now, in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, not worth even covering by the mainstream media.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Canadian-Owned Firm's Mega-Donation To Super PAC Raises ‘Legal Red Flags’ (by Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity)

Foreigners Avoid Restrictions on U.S. Campaign Donations by Donating Through Trade Associations (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Revisiting a $400 Million Tax Break (by Gretchen Morgenson, New York Times)



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