A federal appeals court has rejected a legal challenge to Congress’ ban on most foreign nationals donating to state and local election campaigns.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban Thursday, saying that a “summary” Supreme Court ruling in 2012 upholding the foreign-donation ban left lower-court judges obliged to turn down all First Amendment challenges to the statute.
However, that high-court decision — issued without briefing or argument — dealt with a lawsuit focused on federal elections. Critics of the ban have said that allowing it to extend into state and local political contests intrudes on the right of states and municipalities to control their own electoral processes.
Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Milan Smith Jr. said Congress’ constitutional authority extends to setting rules for financial participation in state and local elections.
“As donations and contributions have grown more important to the campaign process, so too has concern over foreign influence in American elections,” wrote Smith, an appointee of President George W. Bush.
“A prohibition on campaign donations and contributions by foreign nationals is necessary and proper to the exercise of the immigration and foreign relations powers. … Accordingly, Congress was within its power when it acted to protect the country’s political processes after recognizing the susceptibility of the elections process to foreign interference,” added Milan in a 50-page opinion joined by Judges Paul Watford and Andrew Hurwitz, both appointees of President Barack Obama.