Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., wrote to the House Ethics Committee and Federal Election Commission asking if she could contribute to foreign candidates running for office, both individually and through her affiliated political action committees.
“This is the first time I’ve heard about a sitting member of Congress, or any government official for that matter, trying to influence a foreign government by making a contribution,” said Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist for watchdog group Public Citizen. “I suspect that the FEC may well allow this … as long as this doesn’t go for personal use.”
An email from her chief of staff, Twaun Samuel, to the FEC’s office of general counsel added that Haiti was the country of interest. The Caribbean nation has scheduled parliamentary elections for Aug. 9 as well as presidential and municipal elections for Oct. 25 after political turmoil over the near three-year delay in elections. Incumbent president Michel Martelly is not running due to term limits.
Waters, a 13-term congresswoman and member of Democratic leadership, maintains a Haiti issue page on her congressional website, though it is unclear what candidates and parties she would consider supporting if the FEC were to greenlight her advisory request. Her office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Foreign nationals are legally barred from contributing to federal campaigns or campaign committees in the United States, but not all countries prohibit campaign contributions from foreigners. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently raised 90 percent of his election funds from America, often from a handful of families.
In Haiti, where contribution limits to elections are either nonexistent or unenforced, candidates depend on personal wealth and money from overseas, said James Morrell, director of the Haiti Democracy Project. “Foreign money is a great part of it. Major candidates swing through Florida and New York, where most of the members of the Haitian diaspora are. For most of them, that’s the biggest source of money.”