It has come to my attention that, upon the conclusion of the recent pro-Obama confab in Nigeria, a number of the organizers have been reaching out to well-to-do Nigerians, soliciting funds on behalf of themselves and their organization with a promised that such funds will be utilized to support the candidacy of Barack Obama in the United States. A more laughable version of this spiel claims that the collected fund will be “shipped” to the Obama campaign to be used as it wishes.

Let me hasten to make the following indubitably clear:

  • I have not been personally solicited, so I do not have a first-hand confirmation of this effort – I rely on trusted reports, and I accept responsibilities for their inaccuracy, if they turn out to be inaccurate.

  • I am not a lawyer, certainly not one specializing in US Electoral Laws. I am relying extensively on publicly available information to proffer an opinion here, and such opinion should not be construed as authoritative in the substance under discussion – I encourage the reader to engage in a measure of due diligence and do his/her own research.

Having sufficiently inoculated myself against charges of sloppiness (or worse), let’s proceed to the gist of the story here. I trust the reports of solicitation for campaign funds by a number of (apparently) well-meaning Nigerians in Nigeria on behalf of the Democratic Presidential Candidate to be accurate and I intend to use this medium to point out that such solicitation is not only illegal, but that contributing to such efforts is also criminally illegal.

Starting with the low-hanging fruits first:

McCain campaign to return $50,000

Now that we have summarily dispensed with the obligatory news report references, let’s examine what the law has to say with regards to campaign contributions by non US citizens. For this, we rely on the constitutional authority on everything related to presidential elections in the United States of America – The Federal Election Commission (FEC):

The FEC is an independent regulatory agency established in 1975 to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). That statute limits the sources and amounts of the contributions used to finance federal elections, requires public disclosure of campaign finance information and--in tandem with the Primary Matching Payment Act and the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act--provides for the public funding of Presidential elections.

According to the FEC’s aptly-named “Foreign Nationals Brochure”, anyone who falls into one or more of the following designations is considered a “Foreign National” for the purposes of election laws:

  • Foreign governments;

  • Foreign political parties;

  • Foreign corporations;

  • Foreign associations;

  • Foreign partnerships;

  • Individuals with foreign citizenship

  • Immigrants who do not have a "green card."

There are, of course, a few exceptions to these classifications, but for the purposes of our discussion, we will limit our classification to that provided above.

By law, no one so classified above is permitted to make any financial contribution to anyone who is a candidate for an electoral office in the United States of America. No one, period. Not individual. Not corporations. Neither their agents, nor their golden retriever. The relevant portion of the regulation is as follows:

The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) prohibits any foreign national from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly.  It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them.  Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment.The rules could hardly be clearer on this particular subject than is explicitly stated above. The US law does NOT allow any candidate (or his/her agent/proxy) to directly or otherwise solicit campaign contributions from anyone who is not legally permitted under this regulation. Many a political careers have been ruined for a less serious offense as this, and it is rather inconceivable that a presidential candidate’s campaign will not be on top of this, as illustrated in the news reported cited above.

The objective I have set out to accomplish here is to clearly point out that a pro-Obama campaign in Nigeria CANNOT:

  • Solicit funds on behalf of the Obama Campaign.

  • Spend such funds on behalf of the campaign in any way that directly influences the election.

  • Legally give the funds so collected directly to the campaign.

It should be noted that while a non-citizen is legally permitted to actively support (and even canvass for) a US candidate for electoral office, and while such non-citizens can make material contributions and otherwise participate in electoral activities not related to a specific political office/position, it is quite illegal for such non-citizens to even ASSIST in soliciting campaign contribution or other material contribution on behalf of any candidate (or the candidate’s PAC):Under Commission regulations  it is unlawful to knowingly provide substantial assistance to foreign nationals making contributions or donations in connection with any U.S. election.  11 CFR 110.20(h).  "Substantial assistance" refers to active involvement in the solicitation, making, receipt or acceptance of a foreign national contribution or donation with the intent of facilitating the successful completion of the transaction.  This prohibition includes, but is not limited to individuals who act as conduits or intermediaries.  67 FR 69945-6 (November 19, 2002) [PDF].It is also illegal to receive or accept such contributions:As noted earlier, the Act prohibits knowingly soliciting, accepting or receiving contributions or donations from foreign nationals.  In this context, "knowingly" means that a person:

  • Has actual knowledge that the funds solicited, accepted, or received are from a foreign national;

  • Is aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the funds solicited, accepted, or received are likely to be from a foreign national;

  • Is aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to inquire whether the source of the funds solicited, accepted or received is a foreign national.

I do not want to cast aspersions at the organizers of the pro-Obama confab in Nigeria. On the contrary, I salute their efforts and wish them a lot of success in furthering political awareness within the country. Who knows, through their championing of the Obama cause, our political “leaders” may learn one or two things about how politics is supposed to be conducted in a modern society.No foreigner (Nigerian or Martian), who is not also a US citizen is legally permitted to contribute to the Obama campaign. No such person is legally permitted to solicit contributions on behalf of the Obama campaign, and the Obama campaign is expressly prohibited from ACCEPTING such contribution even if collected. The Campaign cannot even acknowledge such effort.It is, of course, perfectly legal for the organizers of the pro-Obama efforts in Nigeria to solicit and accept contributions to furthers their causes, but it is incumbent upon the organizers to be transparent in this effort, and to avoid anything that may be interpreted as under-handed machinations to fool people into thinking that their contributions will be shipped off to the Obama campaign in a DHL bag.

Please support Obama, but please do so with the utmost integrity, lest we continue to perpetuate the ignominious perception of Nigerians as a bunch of ne’er do well, two-bit criminals.

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