The Blog of Legal Times reports on yesterday’s argument in Bluman v. FEC, a First Amendment challenge to federal campaign finance laws that prohibit noncitizens from making contributions or expenditures related to federal elections.
The challenge was brought on behalf of two noncitizens: Benjamin Bluman, a Canadian lawyer who supports Democrats, and Asenath Steiman, an Israeli-Canadian doctor who supports Republicans. Both Bluman and Steiman lawfully live and work in the United States. But because they are not classified as “permanent residents,” they are prohibited from making political contributions or expenditures.
The legal theory of the case is straightforward: Courts have long held that noncitizens who are lawfully within the United States enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that citizens have a First Amendment right to make political contributions and expenditures. Therefore, noncitizens who are lawfully within the United States should have the right to make political contributions and expenditures.
Although straightforward, the argument is also controversial. Politico’s coverage of the case, titled “Lawsuit revives fears of foreign cash,” discusses some of the dire predictions from the Federal Election Commission, which is defending the law, and the conspiracy-theorizing from groups like ThinkProgress regarding the funding of the case.
As we’ve noted before, concerns about foreign money in elections are vastly overblown. Money spent on campaigning is money spent persuading American voters, who ultimately control the levers of power in this country. The First Amendment protects that right. Perhaps more importantly, the First Amendment protects the right of voters to decide where they will get their information. As Justice Kennedy aptly put it in Citizens United v. FEC,
When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.
In short, there is no reason to be any more concerned about electoral speech from non-permanent residents—who live in America, are subject to our laws, and pay taxes—than we are about foreign newspapers, which routinely weigh in on American elections, or foreign authors, who routinely write books about American policies. All are equally valid contributions to the marketplace of ideas.
We say, “Bring on the Bluman groups.”
Image Source: Robert Goodwin