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Northwestern University Law Review

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This article examines alternative ways in which nonprofit social welfare organizations might be held accountable for channeling illegal foreign contributions to favored political candidates. Dangers intrinsic to allowing foreign countries, foreign nationals, and foreign corporations to influence the American electoral process have justified an outright prohibition on this conduct; clandestine channeling of foreign funds directly from political organizations or indirectly through religious organizations and into the hands of political candidates has been prosecuted previously. This exploration is prompted by the emerging possibility that during the Congressional elections of 2016 and the Presidential election of that year, large-scale, illegal donations from foreign sources reached an undisclosed number of political campaigns by way of a lawful nonprofit conduit, namely the National Rifle Association, operating principally as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization chartered in New York. The article concludes that under the existing rules, actions by state attorneys general provide more effective avenues for holding nonprofits, their officers and directors accountable than do federal election laws or actions by the Internal Revenue Service.


Norman I. Silber is a Senior Research Scholar at Yale Law School and Professor of Law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law, Hofstra University.



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