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Commentary: North Dakotans need federal help to end 'dark money'

Commentary: North Dakotans need federal help to end 'dark money'

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North Dakotans voted to end “dark money” when we approved the Ethics Amendment in 2018. We need to be heard at the federal level, too, and Sen. Kevin Cramer can help.

As a new decade opens, America faces a greater array of national security threats than at any moment in recent memory. From Chinese expansionism to Iranian support for extremist networks, from terrorist groups to authoritarian governments bringing political instability abroad, the threats to U.S. national security are numerous.

All of these threats have one thing in common: the use of anonymous U.S. shell companies to further their own goals and undercut American interests along the way.

Anonymous companies may not get many headlines, but they happen to be one of the most popular and effective tools our adversaries turn to time and again to undercut our security.

Look at Iran, for instance. While the Trump Administration has taken the lead in successfully beating back Tehran’s efforts to upend American interests in the Middle East, the Iranian government continues to maintain its stranglehold over the Iranian population. Much of that is due to the fact that Iran is still able to skirt American sanctions -- thanks to the use of anonymous shell companies. For years, Iran used these shell companies to secretly purchase American real estate, including a skyscraper in Manhattan, raking in millions of dollars in rent from unsuspecting businesses, effectively undercutting our sanctions regime.

Or look at China, where the Chinese Communist Party not only continues to entrench its dictatorship, but continues to use its Belt and Road Initiative to peel away American allies and undercut American national security. One of the tools Chinese officials have relied on in expanding their influence abroad is outright bribery and fraud -- and one of their favorite tools to do so is, you guessed it, anonymous shell companies.

Even terrorist and extremist networks, which America has spent years battling -- and which seek to attack Americans and American troops, wherever they may be -- rely on anonymous U.S. shell companies to move their money, and to hide their finances. Because anyone can set up a shell company in the U.S. perfectly anonymously, it’s entirely possible that the Taliban or ISIS are continuing to operate anonymous U.S. shell companies, with authorities none the wiser.

No matter where they may be, our adversaries have relied on anonymous companies to further their own goals. They’ve used them to evade sanctions, or to hide the money they’ve stolen from their populations or made from arms-trafficking.

They’ve used them, for years, to threaten us. And it has to stop, the sooner the better.

Thankfully, Congress has finally woken up to the issue. Late last year, the House of Representatives -- with backing from the White House -- passed the first bill in American history that will end the incorporation of anonymous shell companies in the U.S. -- a landmark moment in the fight to end the tools on which so many of our adversaries rely.

Now, the Senate has the chance to pick up the torch and end these anonymous companies once and for all.

One bill, the ILLICIT CASH Act, would do just that. The measure comes with impressive support thus far, led by national security stalwarts like Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), and Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota). It also comes with a deep well of bipartisan support -- showing just how much backing there is for this on both sides of the political aisle.

The bill is currently in the Senate Banking Committee -- which is where North Dakota can play a role in assuring that anonymous shell companies finally end. Our senator, Kevin Cramer, sits on the Banking Committee, providing him a key leadership opportunity to push this bill on to the White House.

After all, America’s adversaries aren’t going anywhere, no matter what happens after this 2020 election. And the longer we continue to allow anonymous shell companies to exist, the longer these adversaries will continue using them -- and will continue threatening America’s national security along the way.

Ellen Chaffee, Bismarck, is a co-leader for the North Dakotans for Public Integrity.


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