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Dual Citizens in Congress?

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Is dual citizenship in the U.S. Congress and administration creating potentially  serious conflicts of interest?

My Counterpunch piece of November 12, 2014 described a failed effort to identify members of Congress who hold dual citizenship and to ascertain the second nationality of those members.  I mentioned the then outstanding Freedom of Information Act request that I filed with the Congressional Research Service (CRS) last October.

This week I received the information I sought, in the form of a telephone call from a legal officer of the Library of Congress.   After reminding me that Congress (and the CRS by its connection with Congress) is exempt from FOIA requests, he verbally confirmed my suspicion that CRS does not currently collect dual citizenship data.

That’s bad news for those of us who believe that citizens should know if their representatives in Congress (and senior government officials and judges, for that matter) owe allegiance to any other nation.  For example, when a Senator, a House Member or a high USG official speaks out, submits bills or determines policy on an issue of importance to a second country, shouldn’t constituents (and citizens at large) be able to judge whether there is or is not a conflict (or apparent) conflict of interest?

Without transparency on dual citizenship, Americans remain in the dark, free to speculate on which representatives may have divided loyalties.  Current entries on the Internet reveal a wide range of such speculation. The lack of transparency is dangerous, for it erodes trust in government, creating credibility doubts where there should be none and allowing some conflicts to continue undetected, without question or debate.

Thus the first requirement is transparency.  We need a government agency (presumably the CRS) or a non-governmental organization to disclose the names and non-U.S. national affiliations of Members of Congress and senior government officials and to track and report on this issue.

Secondly, we need more media attention to the subject of dual citizenship.  Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Michelle Bachman both received wide press coverage, when they renounced their Canadian and Swiss nationalities, respectively.

Stanley Fischer, who currently serves as vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, became an Israeli citizen in 2005 while retaining his American citizenship.  Prior to his appointment to the Fed in 2014, he served for eight years as governor of the Bank of Israel.  Although the New York Times article of March 13, 2014 reporting on his then upcoming confirmation hearings, disclosed his dual nationality, it failed to ask the obvious question of why one appointed to such a senior policy position should not be required to renounce his Israeli citizenship.  Why has the mainstream media largely ignored the potential conflict of interest inherent in dual citizen Members of Congress and Executive Branch officers?

What about those members and government officials who fail even to disclose their second or more nationalities?  As mentioned in my previous article on this subject, U.S. officials and government officers with Jewish identity may acquire Israeli citizenship without much or any formality under the Israeli Law of Return.  Thus it is possible, if not probable, that some of such officials hold Israeli citizenship.

Beyond the threshold issue of transparency are equally important questions of whether a dual citizen elected to Congress or appointed to a senior USG position should be required to renounce his or her citizenship in the second nation.  Even if American law continues to allow the government service of dual citizens, should it not require such persons at least to recuse themselves from participating in decisions or policy debates that relate to their second nationality?

To address these question we need accurate information on who are the dual citizens in our government.  To obtain such data will require a vigorous campaign by interested citizens and NGOs, first to have elected Members disclose any non-U.S. citizenship they hold and second to have the CRS begin to track and report on the presence of dual citizens in Congress and in the higher levels of Government.

Conflicts of interest and apparent conflicts by public officials erode trust in government.  Allowing dual citizenship in Congress (and in the Executive and Judicial Branches) to flourish under cover of non-disclosure puts our democracy at risk.

It’s time to bring this issue  into open debate.

 L. Michael Hager is co-founder and former director general of the International Development Law Organization, Rome

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L. Michael Hager is cofounder and former Director General, International Development Law Organization, Rome.

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