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Hi Rod,

The issue doesn’t turn the subject of the research or even whether it’s a thing of value. It turns on whether it’s received from a foreign national in connection with an election. Campaign election law uses the expression “thing of value” to help clarify what a foreign national would be forbidden from contributing.

A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution … or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election. 
https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/11/110.20

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