A law requiring foreign investors with "significant interest" in American businesses or property to report their holdings to the federal government was passed recently by the U.S. House of Representatives. It makes such sense that one wonders why it wasn't done before.
Yet the bill now goes to the Senate where chances for passage are considered dim.The measure would require foreign investors who own more than 5 percent of a business or property valued at more than $5 million, or who have more than $10 million in gross annual sales to report their identity and holdings to the Commerce Department.
Proponents of the measure say the bill will give the U.S. an opportunity to have a basic inventory of ownership of the American economy and will also let the public know "who holds the mortgage on America." They claim that the takeover of U.S. assets should not occur in secret. That ought to provoke no argument.
But opponents have called the measure an election year gimmick and have also questioned whether it unfairly robs foreign investors of the right to privacy enjoyed by American investors.
They also fear the measure could affect future foreign investment, a move that could negatively affect the U.S. budget deficit and efforts to stimulate the economy and provide more jobs.
Some 17 government agencies collect information involving foreign investment. But this information is often kept secret, even from Congress, and rarely do the actual names of owners appear in the information. Complaints persist that information is often inaccurate or incomplete and billions of dollars in foreign investment slip through the cracks.
There is merit in the idea of centralizing such information and giving the government a better picture concerning the scope of foreign investment in and ownership of America.
Clearly, there is also merit in protecting confidentiality. Americans take pride in their freedoms and these should be protected not only for U.S. citizens, but for foreigners who are legitimately and legally involved with American business.
But it ought to be possible to preserve a measure of confidentiality, and still learn what foreigners are buying American property and businesses. There's no reason for that to be a secret.