If passed in the House and signed into law, Hawaii would be the second state following Minnesota to ban multinational corporate money in elections.

Honolulu, Hawaii (March 5, 2024) – The Hawaii State Senate today passed unanimously and with bipartisan support SB3243, a bill prohibiting foreign-influenced corporations from spending money to influence local and state elections. 

The legislation, introduced by Senator Chris Lee, would bar corporations with significant foreign ownership from contributing to candidates, parties, or committees (including super PACs) or from engaging in their own direct election spending.

Across the country, companies with significant foreign ownership, like Amazon, have used their money to influence the outcome of elections and political agendas in their favor. The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United created a loophole for foreign interests to acquire stakes in U.S. corporations and then use that leverage to influence or control the corporation’s political activity, including campaign contributions, contributions to super PACs, and independent expenditures.

Multinational corporations affected by the SB3243 are those owned 1% or more by a single foreign investor, or 5% or more by multiple foreign investors. These thresholds reflect levels of ownership that are widely agreed (including by entities such as the Business Roundtable) to be high enough to influence corporate governance.

We have a lot of foreign activity in Hawaii being out here in the middle of the Pacific,” Senator Lee recently told USA Today. “So there is definitely an interest in ensuring that whatever happens outside our borders doesn’t influence and ultimately decide what happens here.

The policy grows from model legislation developed by Free Speech For People, a national nonpartisan non-profit organization that works to renew our democracy and to limit the influence of money in our elections. Free Speech For People helped to pass similar legislation in Minnesota in 2023, San Jose, California in 2024, and in Seattle, Washington in 2020. Additional bills are under consideration in California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, as well as in the U.S. Congress. Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland introduced the Get Foreign Money Out of U.S. Elections Act, which is a federal companion bill to SB3243.

“Six days after the Supreme Court invented corporate free speech rights in Citizens United, President Obama warned that the Court had just opened ‘the floodgates’ for foreign interests to funnel cash freely into American elections through corporations,” said Rep. Raskin in a statement introducing his bill. “He was right.”

“Corporate executives know where their bread is buttered. This bill addresses the threat to Hawaii’s democratic self-government posed by corporate political spending by partly foreign-owned corporations, says Free Speech For People Legal Director Ron Fein.”

“This is a bold reform in the fight to put democracy back in the hands of the people where it belongs,” says Alexandra Flores-Quilty, Campaign Director at Free Speech For People. “We applaud the Hawaii State Senate for passing this bill and we urge the Hawaii House to do so as well and make Hawaii the second state in the country to defend democracy from multinational corporations influence campaigns.”

Free Speech For People is working in partnership with the Center For American Progress to support SB3243.