Last week, Free Speech For People filed an amicus brief supporting the state of Maine’s appeal of a district court decision that enjoined a law limiting foreign government influence in state and local elections. Despite being passed by a historic margin of voters within the state, the District Court of Maine, at the behest of a small group of corporate interests, temporarily blocked the law in February 2024 based on the erroneous premise that the law is inconsistent with Citizens United. The state is now seeking vacatur of that decision. 

The amicus brief, filed in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, largely challenges the district court’s incorrect understanding that Citizens United creates an absolute right to corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, including companies owned by foreign governments. 

FSFP refutes that point. It argues that Citizens United only offers protection to corporations consisting of “associations of citizens,” as repeatedly observed by the Supreme Court in its decision, and it does not stand for the premise that every U.S. legal entity is absolved from limits on political spending. Citizens United does not carry the breadth which the district court erroneously gives it.

Instead, the foundational question in this appeal, FSFP explains, is that Maine is entitled to advance its compelling interest to preserve democratic self-governance and to protect elections from foreign interference. That interest is firmly rooted in federal law, which was later upheld by the Supreme Court in a case called Bluman v. FEC, and prohibits foreign entities (including foreign governments) from spending any money on elections, whether directly or indirectly. 

FSFP writes:

This is not a case about limiting spending in elections to prevent corruption between U.S. citizens, but rather to protect Maine’s democratic self-government from foreign government influence. Political spending by foreign entities, especially foreign governments, goes to the heart of our democratic self-government.

By passing a ballot measure narrowly targeted at corporations with meaningful levels of foreign government ownership, Maine voters rightly closed the door allowing foreign government-owned entities from influencing state elections. Citizens United does not erase the government’s compelling interest in preserving its democratic self-government and to prevent election interference. Nor does it grant corporations with foreign investors an unchecked power to spend money on U.S. elections. 

Finally, the district court’s rationale proves too much. If the Act were unconstitutional merely because it, in prohibiting political spending of a corporation partially owned by foreign governments, consequentially prevents a significant number of U.S. citizen shareholders from spending through that corporation, then no restriction on any U.S. corporation with foreign government ownership, regardless of how large, could ever survive First Amendment scrutiny.

To read FSFP’s amicus brief, click here

To learn more about this case, visit our case page here