Free Speech For People, on behalf of Clean Elections Minnesota, defends against challenge to law banning political spending by foreign-influenced corporations.

ST. PAUL, MN (August 25, 2023) – Free Speech For People, on behalf of Clean Elections Minnesota, today filed court papers to intervene in a corporate lobby’s lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of Minnesota’s recently enacted ban on political spending by foreign-influenced corporations. If the motion to intervene is granted, Clean Elections Minnesota will be a party in the case, aligned with the state defendants, and entitled to the procedural rights of a party.

Both Clean Elections Minnesota and Free Speech For People played key roles in helping to pass this measure. It was included as part of the larger Democracy for People Act, which also prohibits efforts to interfere with voters, ensures access to voter information, and closes dark money loopholes.

The new law bans corporate political spending from foreign-influenced corporations, defined as those with a foreign individual investor owning 1% of corporate stock or multiple foreign investors holding 5% in aggregate–thresholds at which foreign investors can influence corporate governance and decisions. (Businesses owned by immigrants or non-citizens who live in the United States are not covered.)

In June 2023, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce challenged the law in federal court, naming as defendants Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and the members of the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. The Chamber claims the law infringes upon its members’ constitutionally protected free speech rights, as well as those of the Chamber itself.

“Foreign investors don’t have a constitutional right to spend in U.S. elections, and neither do the corporations where they hold influential stakes,” says Ron Fein, Legal Director of Free Speech For People.

“We don’t have a problem with individual foreigners owning shares in American corporations,” said Clean Elections Minnesota Executive Director Mary Hartnett. “But we need to ensure, as the new law does, that foreign ownership and foreign spending doesn’t impact Minnesota’s elections and take away Minnesotans’ freedom to have their own government.”

The city of Seattle passed an ordinance similar to the Minnesota law in 2020 and similar bills are pending in other state legislatures. (The Minneapolis-based law firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP is serving as co-counsel in the case).

“The legislature spoke on behalf of Minnesotans and declared that foreign-influenced corporations cannot be allowed to influence our elections,” said Lockridge Grindal Nauen partner Charlie Nauen. “We are proud to represent Clean Elections Minnesota and to work with Free Speech For People to ensure this ground breaking law is upheld and enforced.”

The motion to intervene will be argued before United States Magistrate Judge John Docherty on September 8, 2023 at 10:30 AM.

Read the memorandum in support of intervention here.

Read more about the Minnesota legislation here

Read more about similar legislation in Seattle and pending in other states here.