The Logan Act is a federal law that makes it a felony for any American citizen to attempt to negotiate with a foreign government or attempt to influence foreign policy without clear authority from the executive branch of the U.S. government. It was passed in 1799, due to interference by George Logan in relations with France and is still on the books at present, although it has since been revamped. Logan, whom the Act is obviously named for, had no authority to visit France. Congress soon realized that such attempts could very well give mixed signals during tensions between the U.S. and other nations and thus passed the Logan Act.
The constitutionality of the Logan Act hasn’t been thoroughly tested. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has acknowledged in other cases that the executive branch alone, namely the president, has the power to speak for the United States or the authority to appoint a spokesperson. It should also be noted that the text of the Logan Act makes clear that its purpose is to prevent any person without the proper authority from interfering in disputes between the United States and foreign governments. Such a usurpation of executive power could clearly send mixed messages or dangerously undermine foreign policy.
The Logan Act stipulates that no citizen may directly or indirectly engage in correspondence with a foreign government or officer thereof without the proper authority, regarding any dispute with the U.S. with the intent of influencing conduct or subverting measures enacted by the United States. There have been several events that appear to be direct violations of the Logan Act. However, no one has yet been convicted or punished under the Act. Many citizens are curious as to why other citizens, celebrities, and members of Congress have been allowed to engage in what appears to be the exact conduct prohibited by the Logan Act without being held accountable.
Examples include Jane Fonda’s notorious visit and photo ops in Hanoi, and the meetings between John Kerry and North Vietnamese leaders in Paris, while still at war. During the 2004 presidential election, there were questionable visits to the Middle East. Other names included in this list are George McGovern and Jesse Jackson for engaging with Cuba, and Speaker of the House Jim Wright who met with the Sandinistas of Nicaragua during the Reagan Administration.
In 2007, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, decided to meet with Syrian President Bashir Assad against the wishes of the U.S. State Department. Critics, including those on the left who disagreed with Nancy Pelosi, condemned the meeting and her misguided attempt to garner peace between Israel and Syria and to engage Syria in diplomacy despite the president’s decision to refrain while Syria appears to support terrorism.
Perhaps the Logan Act should be utilized to thwart future missions similar to those already conducted. There have been incidents beyond those mentioned, but little or no action has been taken against anyone involved. Using the Logan Act to make an example of those who overstep boundaries might help limit such actions in the future before serious damage is done.