Exclusive—Sen. Bill Hagerty: Time to Close the Loophole Allowing Foreign Billionaires to Interfere in Our Elections

(iStock/Getty Images; BNN)
iStock/Getty Images; BNN

After years of hysteria over Russiagate and alleged foreign influence in American elections, you might be surprised to learn that—despite a federal ban on foreign-national contributions in U.S. elections—Democrats’ efforts in recent election cycles to retake the White House and Congress were fueled by half-a-billion dollars from a shadowy foreign billionaire with a stated goal of turning the U.S. Constitution into a left-wing political tool.

This week I’m introducing the Preventing Foreign interference in American Elections Act to close this foreign-influence loophole. My legislation would prohibit foreign nationals from circumventing the current ban and from funding voter mobilization operations, election administration, or ballot measures.

As with so many aspects of American politics, it’s important to watch what Democrats do, not what they say. Four years ago, Joe Biden proclaimed that “[f]oreign interference in the U.S. electoral process represents an assault on the American people and their constitutional right to vote.” Chuck Schumer repeated George Washington’s warning that “foreign interference [in our elections] is one of the most baneful foes of Republican government.” Nancy Pelosi intoned: “Our Founders were specifically intent on ensuring that foreign entities did not undermine the integrity of our elections.”

That’s why federal law bars foreign nationals from contributing to U.S. political campaigns, political parties, and campaign ads. But this hasn’t stopped a Swiss billionaire named Hansjorg Wyss from attempting to reshape American politics through the election of Democrats.


Decades ago, Wyss donated directly to Democrat candidates and political action committees, apparently in violation of law, but in recent years he has developed more sophisticated techniques for unleashing roughly $500 million to influence American elections.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (left) and Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss at a charity benefit in New York City on April 1, 2015. (Craig Barritt/Getty Images)

The New York Times describes his methodology as using his Wyss Foundation and Berger Action Fund and a “daisy chain of opaque organizations that mask the ultimate recipients of his money” to shell out $208 million from 2016 to 2020 to groups that helped Democrats take the White House and Congress and advance their agenda.

Though it would be illegal for Wyss to donate to a political campaign or PAC involved in U.S. elections, the Berger Action Fund gave more than $135 million in a four-year stretch to a Washington, D.C. nonprofit called the Sixteen Thirty Fund—which then itself gave $63 million in 2020 to Super PACs that supported President Biden or other Democrats that year, after having spent $141 million in 2018 to oppose the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, influence ballot initiatives, and change voting laws.

The Berger Action Fund then poured $72 million into Democrat-aligned groups in 2021, more than $62 million of which went to groups running ads promoting Democrat candidates in the 2022 midterms and supporting President Biden’s agenda. Another $63 million followed in 2022.


According to Wyss’s sister, his ultimate goal in spending hundreds of millions to influence U.S. elections is to “[re]interpret the American Constitution in the light of progressive politics.” My legislation is designed to prevent this.

The Associated Press

President Joe Biden speaks during a dinner reception at the White House on Feb. 11, 2023. The Berger Action Fund has routed millions of dollars from Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss through a network of nonprofit groups that have helped bankroll efforts to lift Biden’s agenda.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

To cut Wyss’s “daisy chain” of organizations that funnel his money to groups backing Democrat campaigns, my bill would outlaw foreign nationals from using instructions, intermediaries, or conduits to engage in prohibited U.S. election-related activity. Though Wyss’s organizations dubiously claim to ensure that their funds are not used by recipients in American campaigns or elections, this loophole should be closed in law.

My bill would also prohibit foreign-national funding for ballot harvesting, get-out-the-vote activity, promoting a particular political party, or election administration activity to prevent a repeat of the “Zuckerbucks” of 2020. Finally, it would stop foreign nationals from spending to influence state and local ballot initiatives, as beneficiaries of the Wyss largesse have done in recent election cycles.

To prevent infringement on Americans’ free-speech rights, the legislation contains safeguards that prevent abusive investigations and pretextual government collection or disclosure of Americans’ donor information.

Federal law rightly reflects the judgment of most Americans that foreign influence in American elections is improper. But it needs an update to match modern tactics. If Democrats are serious about safeguarding American democracy and self-government, they’ll join my bill.

Bill Hagerty is a United States Senator from Tennessee and a former U.S. ambassador to Japan.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.