New York State Senate Considers Ban On Foreign-Influenced Corporate Spending In State Elections

Following in the footsteps of Seattle and St. Petersburg, FL, the Democracy Preservation Act seeks to ban political contributions from foreign-influenced corporations in New York

The New York State Senate is considering a bill that would ban foreign-influenced corporations from contributing to political campaigns. The proposed legislation, introduced by Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, goes further than a similar proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Gianaris’ bill, The Democracy Preservation Act, prohibits companies with 1% or more stake owned by a single foreign investor or 5% or more owned by multiple foreign investors from making political contributions in New York’s state and local campaigns. It would also prohibit such an entity from funding independent expenditures or political action committees.

Cuomo’s bill would ban any corporation from contributing to political campaigns if a single foreign entity owns 5% or more stake, or if multiple foreign entities own more than 10% stake. The statement released by the governor’s office does not specifically mention whether these thresholds extend to the funding of political action committees or independent expenditures.

“Unlimited corporate expenditures have a pernicious effect on our elections and the Democracy Preservation Act will make substantial inroads in fighting the influence of big corporations,” Gianaris told WhoWhatWhy. “Enactment of this bill would ensure that New York’s elections are decided by its people, not by big corporations.”

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 November’s City Council elections, more than the combined total raised by candidates without Amazon’s backing. Eight percent of Amazon is owned by foreign stakeholders, meaning it would be banned from contributing under the Democracy Preservation Act, but not under Governor Cuomo’s legislation.

The Democracy Preservation Act introduced by Gianaris cites inspiration from similar legislation passed in Seattle and in St. Petersburg, Florida. 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 both the Seattle and St. Petersburg laws. The organization also helped to craft similar legislation currently pending before the Maryland Legislature.

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