(Washington Examiner) – In their biggest threat yet to conservative media, Democrats on the Federal Election Commission are laying the groundwork to bar companies with even the tiniest foreign ownership from American politics, a move that could ban Fox, the Wall Street Journal and even the New York Times from covering political races or giving endorsements.
In a last-minute submission Wednesday, a top Democrat on the evenly split FEC proposed that the Thursday meeting of the commission begin the process to prohibit companies with foreign ownership as small as 5 percent “from funding expenditures, independent expenditures, or electioneering communications.”
Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said in her submission, “Given everything we have learned this year, it blinks reality to suggest that that there is no risk of foreign nationals taking advantage of current loopholes to intercede invisibly in American elections. This is a risk no member of the Federal Election Commission should be willing to tolerate.”
Under Weintraub’s proposal, entities that reach her foreign ownership target would conceivably be banned from advocating for a candidate’s election or defeat.
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Several media giants have at least 5 percent foreign ownership, some with as much as 25 percent. Included is News Corp, which owns Fox, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times also has foreign ownership, as do many politically active firms like Ben & Jerry’s.
That prohibition could include Fox commentator Sean Hannity or Wall Street Journal editorial. And, according to one analysis, because foreign nationals also are prohibited from making electioneering communications, those media would not even be able to mention Donald Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton, even if just covering them.
Democrats on the commission have been on a three-year campaign to limit the voice of conservative media, stopped by Republican commissioners who have warned that the First Amendment is under attack in the FEC.
The latest move was hinted at last month when Weintraub proposed another political ban on foreign-owned companies. Republicans countered with their proposal, but both were voted down. It was suggested that Weintraub tighten her proposal and her Wednesday submission calls for commission lawyers to design a foreign ownership rule.
“I am prepared to move that we address through rulemaking five discrete topics relating to foreign-national political spending and corporations: 1. Percentage of foreign ownership: 2. Board membership of corporation: 3. Foreign government ownership: 4. Type of corporation: and 5. Implementation measures,” she wrote.
For many clean election advocates, the broad foreign money ban makes sense, but it has stalled over the impact on media.
She cited legal decisions and rules by other federal agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission, in calling for changes and said that U.S. companies that go overseas to avoid American taxes should also be included. Ironically, the FCC recently watered down foreign ownership rules, a move that is expected to spark greater foreign ownership of media.
At last month’s meeting, Weintraub bluntly said she’d consider regulating the media including the Times, in a discussion with Republican Commissioner Lee Goodman.
GOODMAN: So, you would consider, your proposal would contemplate taking up then foreign ownership of the New York Times as potentially tainting the New York Times?
WEINTRAUB: If you want to consider media entities and the foreign national, I am willing to consider that.
She added, “In a rulemaking, we could set new rules. That’s the whole point of a rulemaking, and if you want to raise the issue in that rulemaking, I think it’s actually a very interesting issue that we have not taken a position on yet, what happens, how do the rules on media ownership, on the media exemption and the, um, foreign national ban, what’s the interplay between those? I don’t think that’s a topic that the Commission has addressed yet, but we could consider it in this rulemaking.”