Washington Becomes Latest State to Pass Law Prohibiting Foreign Involvement in Campaign Finance Activity

Effective today, June 11, 2020, a new law in Washington state prohibits involvement of “foreign nationals” in state campaign finance activity.  The law also requires corporations and other entities to certify their compliance with the new law whenever they make a contribution in the state.  This new law reinforces Washington’s reputation as one of the most aggressive state regulators of campaign finance activity.  Federal law already prohibits foreign involvement in U.S. campaign finance activity at the federal, state, and local level.  Nonetheless, we have noticed a proliferation of these state-level laws on foreign campaign finance activity, likely a response to allegations of foreign interference in elections since 2016.

The new Washington law generally prohibits foreign nationals from participating in state campaign finance activity.  “Foreign national” here means a foreign government; a foreign political party; a partnership, association, corporation, organization, or other group or combination of people that is organized under the laws of or has its principal place of business in a foreign country; or an individual who is neither a U.S. citizen nor lawful permanent resident (“green card” holder).

The law prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions, expenditures, political advertisements, or electioneering communications in Washington elections.  The law also prohibits others from making contributions, expenditures, political advertisements, or electioneering communications if the activity is financed in any part by a foreign national or there was foreign national involvement in making decisions about the activity.

Corporations, partnerships, associations, PACs, or other organization or entities making contributions must certify to the recipient that the contributor is not a foreign national, that its contribution is not financed in any part by a foreign national, and that foreign nationals were not involved in making decisions regarding the contribution.  The state has provided a sample certification on its website.

Persons making independent expenditures or electioneering communications in the state, or sponsoring political advertisements in the state, also must confirm that the expenditure, communication, or ad is not financed in any part by foreign nationals and that foreign nationals were not involved in decisions about the expenditures, communication, or ad in any way.  This is true regardless of whether the person is a political committee or some other type of spender.

Campaigns and political committees active in the state, including out-of-state committees, must confirm they have received the required certifications from non-individual contributors.

Per state guidance, these rules do not automatically prohibit activity by domestic affiliates of foreign entities, or by corporations with foreign shareholders or owners.  They must, however, have a source of revenue other than funding from the foreign national, and must abide the rules on foreign nationals participating in decision making.  Organizations with foreign members, such as trade associations, may participate in state campaign finance activity so long as foreign funds are properly segregated from domestic funds and foreign nationals do not otherwise participate in the activity.