ASAE delivered the following letter to members of the House of Representatives on March 6:
To Members of the U.S. House of Representatives:
ASAE writes to express our concern and need for clarification of provisions in H.R. 1 that would expand the definition of “foreign national” and potentially threaten the continued ability of associations and corporations to establish and administer political action committees (PACs).
ASAE represents more than 44,000 association professionals and industry partners. Our members manage leading trade associations, individual membership societies and voluntary organizations across the United States and in nearly 50 countries around the world.
ASAE understands and supports existing law which prohibits foreign nationals, including foreign corporations, from engaging in most election-related activities, including the administration and control of a PAC. However, H.R. 1’s expansion of the foreign national definition creates confusion about its application to U.S. associations that have executives or directors who are neither U.S. citizens nor permanent residents. Under a broad reading of the legislation, it could be interpreted that H.R. 1 would prohibit associations or corporations with even one foreign national executive or director from maintaining a PAC.
This vague and expansive bill text is dangerously open to interpretation and must be clarified to prevent unconstitutional restrictions on associations’ rights under the First Amendment. Many U.S.-based associations have international members and are engaged in activities outside the country. It is not uncommon that an international association based in the U.S. would have executives or Board members who are foreign nationals. Associations that maintain PACs carefully ensure that foreign national executives or directors do not participate in the administration or decision-making process of the association’s PAC. Any change to existing law that would prohibit associations from maintaining a PAC if they have even one foreign national executive or director would constitute an egregious attack on the free speech rights of associations.
PACs are highly-regulated organizations that have been part of American elections since the 1940s. They simply allow like-minded individuals to pool their contributions to support candidates, political parties and other PACs. As a defender of the First Amendment rights of associations, ASAE urges you to remove any unintended restrictions on protected First Amendment activity from H.R. 1.
John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE
President and CEO