Lawmakers Seek to Close Loophole to Stop Foreign-Influenced Corporations From Influencing Maryland Elections

Delegate Palakovich Carr and Senator Lam Prefiled a Bill that would Protect Maryland Elections from Foreign-Influenced Corporations.

ANNAPOLIS, MD (January 6, 2020) – Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr and Senator Clarence Lam prefiled a bill that would prohibit spending by foreign-influenced corporations in Maryland elections. The bill would require corporations that spend money in Maryland elections to certify that they are not owned in whole or in significant part by foreign entities. 

“At a time when our elections are under attack by foreign governments, Maryland needs to act to ensure that state and local political campaigns are free from foreign influence,” said Delegate Palakovich Carr, who represents District 17 in Montgomery County. “Federal law is clear that foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing to political campaigns. This legislation would close a loophole that allows foreign-owned companies to influence elections in Maryland.”

“Marylanders have a right to elections free from the influence of foreign corporate interests. Last session, the General Assembly took the important step of protecting our voting system from foreign ownership. This bill is a natural follow up to that legislation and will ensure that Marylanders can have confidence in the outcome of our state’s elections” said Senator Clarence Lam, who represents District 12, which includes parts of Baltimore and Howard Counties.

The United States has witnessed foreign corporate money 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. In Seattle, for example, online retail giant Amazon spent $1.5 million in an effort to influence last month’s City Council elections, more than the combined total raised by candidates without Amazon’s backing. More than five percent of Amazon is owned by foreign stakeholders. Similarly, 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.

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 bill now pending before the Maryland General Assembly. The organization also helped to draft the St. Petersburg, Florida ordinance, the first of its kind in the country, on which the Maryland bill is partially based. “With this key reform bill, Maryland 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. 

“Political spending by foreign-influenced corporations threatens American self-government and subverts efforts to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption,” says Bonifaz. “It is time that we end foreign corporate spending in Maryland elections and that we provide a model for how other states can help safeguard their elections. We applaud the leadership of the state legislators who are sponsoring these bills and standing up for our democracy.”

“This bill will address a major loophole created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a loophole that the five Justices in the majority in that ruling never envisioned,” says Ron Fein, the Legal Director of Free Speech For People. “The people of Maryland understand that foreign influence, through any form, has no place in our elections. Concealing such influence via corporate spending presents serious harm to our democracy. We urge Maryland legislators to pass this landmark bill to help protect the integrity of our elections.”

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