Americans Overwhelmingly Support Banning Foreign Corporate Spending in Elections

A recent survey conducted by Civis Analytics on behalf of the Center for American Progress Action Fund found strong bipartisan support for banning corporate spending in elections from corporations with significant foreign ownership. Of the 2,633 voters interviewed for the survey, 73 percent said they supported spending limits on U.S. companies with “any” foreign ownership. Even after respondents heard negative messages about this type of policy, a strong bipartisan majority of 58-24 supported prohibiting foreign-influenced corporate spending in our elections.

Free Speech For People has pioneered legislation to prohibit election spending by American companies with significant foreign ownership, helping pass the first ordinance of its kind in St. Petersburg, Florida, in November 2017. On January 13, 2020, Seattle enacted a ban on political spending by any corporation with 1 percent ownership by a single foreign investor or 5 percent ownership by multiple foreign investors. (Similar legislation is now under consideration in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York City.) 

This type of legislation would have a significant impact on protecting self-government in U.S. elections. Amazon, of which 8 percent of shares are owned by foreign investors, is already facing heat in Seattle after spending an unprecedented $1.5 million in the Seattle City Council elections in 2019. Other corporations that could be prevented from pouring money into elections include Uber, Facebook, Raytheon, and Bank of America, all of which have come under fire for their political activities as of late.

The Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC sanctioned political spending by corporate entities as political speech protected by the First Amendment on the claim that corporations are “associations of citizens.” As many major corporations are owned in substantial part by foreign shareholders, they can now circumvent federal law which explicitly prohibits foreign nationals from making any political expenditures in U.S. elections. These poll results demonstrate broad public support for laws like the one Seattle is considering that ban political spending by corporations with a significant amount of foreign ownership.

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