Amazon vs. Democracy: Foreign Influence In The Seattle City Council Elections

As of last week, Amazon has poured over $1.5 million into Seattle’s upcoming city council election through the local Chamber of Commerce’s super PAC, The Civil Alliance for a Sound Economy. That total represents more than the combined total raised by candidates without Amazon’s backing.

As Rachel Lauter, executive director of the Working Washington advocacy group, said in response to this development: “One of the richest corporations in the world just invested an unprecedented amount of money to attempt a hostile takeover of Seattle’s local government.”

Why is this so important? Aside from being one of the country’s largest companies, more than 5% of Amazon is foreign-owned, meaning the company’s contributions represent foreign influence in the Seattle city council elections.

Seattle is now taking steps to combat foreign-influenced corporate spending in city elections. This week, Councilmember Lorena González testified before the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission on legislation that would 1) prohibit spending by foreign-influenced corporations (like Amazon); 2) limit contributions to “independent expenditure” political committees, thereby ending super PACs in city elections; and 3) expand Seattle’s existing disclosure rules to require commercial advertisers to report information about political advertisements outside of the narrow context of an election campaign. The Seattle City Council is now pursuing this reform with urgency and is expected to vote on it early next year.

Free Speech For People has worked closely with Councilmember González to help draft this legislation, which builds on a local law that Free Speech For People developed and advocated for in St. Petersburg, Florida. Similar legislation is currently pending in Massachusetts and New York City.

According to today’s edition of The New York Times, Seattle’s proposed legislation “could combat corporate money to an even greater degree — and potentially set up a new legal challenge that could reshape the national conversation on campaign finance reform.”

Free Speech For People is proud to partner with Fix Democracy First in Washington State to campaign for the passage of this model legislation to ensure that Seattle is a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people. But we can’t do it without your help. Can you chip in to help us win this victory in Seattle and for our democracy? 

Getting big money out of politics has been a core focus of our mission from the start. We founded Free Speech For People on the day of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC because we know our democracy guarantees all Americans an equal voice and an equal vote. And, we will keep fighting for that basic promise of political equality for all.

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