BOSTON, MA – State legislators have introduced two bills in the Massachusetts Legislature to abolish super PACs and to prohibit spending by foreign-influenced corporations in Massachusetts elections. 

State Senator Jo Comerford is the lead sponsor of Senate bill SD 634, State Senator Mark Montigny is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill SD 759, and State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven is the lead sponsor of House bill HD 1031, all of which will require corporations that spend money in Massachusetts elections to certify they are not foreign-influenced, or owned in whole or a significant part by foreign investors.  Senator Comerford and Representative Uyterhoeven have also introduced companion bills, SD 635 and HD 1146, and Representative Mike Day has introduced HD 1515, all of which will establish limits on contributions to political action committees, thereby abolishing super PACs in state elections.

In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in v. FEC opened the door to super PACs by holding that the federal law limiting contributions to political committees to $5,000 per person each year could not be applied to a political committee that promised to make only “independent expenditures.”  While some federal appellate circuits have followed the SpeechNow ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which has jurisdiction over federal cases in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island, has yet to rule on this question, nor has the U.S. Supreme Court or the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  

Alongside the rise of super PACs, the nation has also witnessed money from corporations with significant foreign ownership flowing into our elections as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which swept away longstanding precedent barring corporate money in our political process.  For example, in May 2016, Uber teamed up with fellow ride-hailing service Lyft to drench Austin, Texas, in $9 million worth of election spending in the hope of overturning a city law requiring drivers to submit to fingerprint-based criminal background checks. Then, just weeks later, Uber disclosed an unprecedented $3.5 billion investment from the Saudi Arabian government, meaning that the Saudi Kingdom owns more than five percent of the company, along with a seat on its board of directors.  In 2019, Amazon spent over 1.5 million dollars to try to influence the outcome of the Seattle City Council elections that year.  That amount was more than the combined total amount of money raised by candidates not supported by Amazon. More than 5% of Amazon is foreign-owned.  In January 2020, the Seattle City Council enacted a ban on political spending by foreign-influenced corporations based on the same model as the Massachusetts bill.

In Congress, Senator Warren and Representative Pramila Jayapal have proposed the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act which includes a provision to ban foreign-owned and partially foreign-owned corporations from spending on United States elections, including on a State or local ballot initiative or referendum.

“I always tell constituents that their government works for them, but our campaign finance laws are allowing super PACs and corporations to pour money into our elections and political system,” says State Senator Jo Comerford. “This should be concerning to every Commonwealth resident. Many of these corporations are owned in part by foreign actors, super PACs can mask their donors, and if our government is going to truly be responsive to its constituents we must stem the tide of cloaked money in our elections. This bill would do just that, and I’m proud to do this work in the Senate.”

“Too often the choices that are put before voters are framed heavily by voices that don’t have their interests at heart.  The average voter is dwarfed by the enormous resources that corporations and other entities bring to bear on these issues and by money that flows through our system corrupting democratic institutions and warping our politics.  Making matters worse, many of these large spenders are foreign governments and entities who are entirely detached from the needs of our citizens.  I continue to champion this bill because there should be zero tolerance for such activity in Massachusetts,” says State Senator Mark Montigny.

“Now more than ever, we need to fight for the healthy democracy we all deserve,” says State Representative Uyterhoeven. “This means a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Dark money and corporate control of our elections severely undermine our democratic values. These bills are a critical step towards bringing integrity to our elections and political system.”

Free Speech For People, a national non-profit public interest organization founded on the day of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, helped to draft the new bills now pending before the Massachusetts Legislature.  The organization also helped to draft the Seattle, Washington ordinance and an earlier ordinance in St. Petersburg, Florida, the first of their kind in the country, on which the Massachusetts bills are based.

“With these key reform bills, Massachusetts can help lead the way in the fight to reclaim our democracy,” says John Bonifaz, the Co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People. “Super PACs are backdoors for wealthy donors to evade campaign contribution limits designed to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.  And, political spending by foreign-influenced corporations threatens American self-government.  It is time that we end super PACs and foreign corporate spending in Massachusetts elections and that we provide a model for how other states can help safeguard their elections as well. We applaud the leadership of the state legislators who are sponsoring these bills and standing up for our democracy.”

“Massachusetts is the birthplace of the American Revolution which set in motion a government of, by, and for the people,” says Geoff Foster, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “We must continue the work to protect our state’s democracy from foreign-owned corporate expenditures seeking to influence our elections.”

“These bills limit the damage of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by closing major loopholes and ending unintended consequences that the Court didn’t even envision,” says Ron Fein, the Legal Director of Free Speech For People. “The people of Massachusetts understand that super PACs are an end-run around limits on political contributions, and a vehicle for corruption in politics. They also understand that foreign influence, through any form, has no place in our elections. We urge the Massachusetts Legislature to pass these landmark bills to help protect the integrity of our elections.”

“More than a decade after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the results have been disastrous as foreign corporate money and the pooled wealth of super PACs have swamped the voices of the American people and corrupted our democracy,” says Ben Clements, the Board Chair and Senior Legal Advisor for Free Speech For People.  “With the passage of these bills to end the influence of super PACs and foreign money on Massachusetts elections, the Legislature can begin to restore our Massachusetts elections to the people and make Massachusetts a clean and fair election model for the Nation.”