Can foreign governments fund Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that foreign governments have increasingly been funding the Clinton Foundation since the organization, a non-profit operated by members of the Clinton family, recently began again accepting contributions from those governments. The Journal notes, "Recent donors include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, Germany and a Canadian government agency promoting the Keystone XL pipeline."

As Hillary Clinton faces a prospective presidential campaign ahead, could these foreign governments fund her campaign?

The answer is no--foreign nationals may only give money to the Clintons' non-profit for its activities.

Despite raising half a billion dollars from foreign nationals, including foreign governments, in the last two decades, the Clintons cannot use money from foreign nationals to fund a federal election. The ban on foreign campaign contributions and expenditures stretches back nearly fifty years.

Some may remember President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in 2010, in which he criticized the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC (PDF) for a decision, he claimed, that "will open the floodgates for special interests– including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections." Justice Samuel Alito visibly disagreed, PolitiFact found the claim "mostly false," and, shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the ban.

Foreign governments, then, may contribute to non-profits in the United States, like the Clinton Foundation. But they cannot contribute money to politicians or political action committees. And because the Clinton Foundation is organized as a 501(c)(3), the Foundation cannot engage in political campaigning. (There are political activities that foreign governments and non-profits can engage in, but they much narrower than activities related to specific candidates: they are usually tied to specific issues, like a ballot measure, or to non-partisan or general "awareness" activities.)

The only issue, then, is not a legal risk, but merely one of appearance--that a prospective presidential candidate is simultaneously heading a non-profit that is accepting contributions from foreign governments. And whether one views that as a real or potential conflict of interest or ethical dilemma is, I suppose, a matter of perspective.