The Tri-Valley's U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), one of Congress's more vocal critics of President Donald Trump and many of the administration's international policies, has introduced a new bill to toughen federal regulations that aim to curb any U.S. president or vice president from receiving financial benefits from foreign powers.
The proposed legislation would expand upon existing laws imposing civil penalties for presidents and vice presidents receiving unauthorized foreign gifts by also making offenses subject to criminal penalties, broadening the gift definition to "anything of value" and extending the rules to apply to those officials' immediate families and companies they control.
Swalwell, whose district includes Pleasanton, said his goal with the bill is to prevent foreign states from exerting improper influence over decisions made by America's highest elected officials.
"It's long past time that Congress takes a meaningful stand against any effort to buy and sell our White House," Swalwell said in a statement. "America's Presidents and Vice Presidents must not enrich themselves from foreign sources -- they should hold themselves to a higher standard, and if they won't, it's our job to do it for them."
Dubbed the "Prevent Corrupting Foreign Influence Act," House Resolution 6466 was introduced in Congress on Monday and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for review and consideration.
Swalwell, who has zeroed in on Trump's international agenda and interactions with foreign powers almost since the president's election, said his bill was inspired by Trump companies' reported connections to Russian and Chinese governments and some of the president's policy decisions.
The third-term congressman argues Trump should do more to isolate himself from his business interests while in office, as predecessors Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did by utilizing blind trusts. (Swalwell contends Barack Obama didn't use blind trusts because he didn't hold business interests or personal assets that could present conflicts of interest.)
"Unlike other Presidents, Donald Trump has failed to distance himself from his private business interests while serving our nation, and so he and his family are getting richer from Trump companies that receive money and benefits from foreign powers," Swalwell said.
"Americans deserve to know that their President is working for them and only them, not having his own wallet fattened by foreign interests," added Swalwell, who continues to appear in a variety of national media to express his concerns about the Trump administration and congressional Republicans' priorities -- a media profile that has garnered both positive and negative reviews within his district.
HR 6466 aims to expand upon current law pertaining to emoluments, or gifts from foreign governments, which elected officials are prohibited from obtaining under the Constitution except when allowed by Congress.
Current regulations implement the ban, provide reporting for gifts that are allowed and authorize for civil penalties for violations, Swalwell noted.
The new bill would broaden the scope to prohibit not just gifts, but "anything of value" given by foreign powers. The phrase is not further defined in the legislation.
Secondly, Swalwell's proposal would expand the rules to prohibit financial benefits from any company that is more than 50% controlled by a foreign government, and it would extend the list of banned recipients to include a president's or vice president's immediate family members -- spouse, children, siblings, parents and parents-in-law -- as well as companies they have a controlling interest in.
The proposed legislation would make violators subject to criminal fine and possible imprisonment for up to five years.
Exceptions to the no-foreign-influence rules would include investments by a foreign state or its controlled company into a mutual fund or in an asset held in a blind trust of those on the prohibited recipient list.
Swalwell said he was inspired to craft the bill because of Trump companies' history of Russian investments and business connections, as well as a $500 million loan from Metallurgical Corporation of China to an Indonesian development project in which the Trump organization is involved happening around the same time the president eased sanctions on Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE.
The legislation would not criminalize past financial deals, but it would look to curtail continued or future business relationships.