US political parties target expats, as prez campaign heads into final weeks

The US Democratic and Republican campaigns are aggressively targeting expatriate American voters, as the Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton battle heads into its final weeks.

Both parties are stressing their opposition to FATCA, the 2010 legislation that has made life difficult for hundreds of thousands of expat Americans by forcing financial institutions located outside the US to report to the American tax authorities on their American clients’ accounts.

However, while the Republicans have been calling for FATCA’s repeal, the Democrats are understood to be arguing in favour of a so-called “same country exemption”, which would exempt both Americans and foreign banks from having to report to the IRS on accounts held outside the US by Americans in the same country in which they legally reside, while still netting those individuals who maintain non-US financial accounts in jurisdictions in which they don’t actually live.

A landmark event in the campaign takes place tonight, as the two candidates square off in the first of three debates. (A debate between the vice presidential candidates is also scheduled.)

Tonight’s debate, which is due to last for 90 minutes, is being broadcast at 9pm local time (2am UK time, 9am Tues Singapore time) from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

In the meantime, overseas campaigners around the world have been holding fund-raising events, such as a recent comedy evening in London sponsored by the Democrats Abroad UK, as well as voter registration campaigns, organised by entities like Avaaz, a global online campaign movement which was behind a banner-bedecked double-decker bus that roamed London’s streets last week in search of unregistered American expats.

As in previous elections, the importance of the expat American vote is being stressed by some political experts, who note that as many as 8 million or more Americans are estimated to live overseas. (Estimates vary, as there is no official central database of US expats; the US State Department has put the figure at around 8.7 million.)

In February, Oxford University’s  Rothermere American Institute issued a report on the American expat vote, in which it noted that expats could play a decisive role this November. It quoted Jay Sexton, director of the institute, as saying that overseas votes were “critical to putting George W Bush into the White House in 2000, and if things are tight, could be just as important in the 2016 election too”.

Candidates – and parties – “ignore overseas voters at their peril”, he added.

Targeting Bernie Sanders voters 

Last week, in what was seen as a tactic aimed at appealing to fans of her former rival, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton proposed to boost the tax on the estates of America’s super-rich at upwards of 65% – a tax which, as the Washington Post noted, “would apply to only a handful of billionaire families”, and contrasted with her Republican rival’s call for “the elimination of the estate tax entirely”.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg is reporting today,  Clinton has nevertheless managed to “outraise” Trump in terms of campaign donations by “20-to-1” among US billionaires.

In August, the American Citizens Abroad wrote to the presidential candidates in order to obtain their official stance on eight key issues of concern to expats. In addition to their stance with respect to the “same country exemption” amendment for FATCA, the candidates were asked what their positions were with respect to a proposal that the US federal tax regime be changed to a residence-based system, “like every one of the 50 states, and…virtually every other country in the world”, and how they feel about certain proposed changes to the so-called Foreign Bank Account Reporting requirements which, like FATCA, have caused considerable difficulty for many expats.

An ACA spokesperson told International Investment that it has “not heard back from the candidates” with respect to its letter, but added that “we will be following up with their offices this week to try and get a response”.

To see a copy of the ACA’s letter, click here.

The election will take place on Tuesday, 8 November. Voter registration information may be found on the website of the Overseas Vote organisation by clicking here. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Helen Burggraf
Helen Burggraf is the editor of International Investment. A US-trained journalist, she has worked in Rome, New York City and London, covering everything from the fashion and retailing industries to the global drinking water and water-treatment sector, private equity, and most recently, the international cross-border financial services/advice industry.

Read more from Helen Burggraf

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