If passed in the Assembly and signed into law, New York would be the first state to ban multinational corporate money in elections.

ALBANY, NY (January 10, 2022) – The New York State Senate today passed, with bipartisan support, the Democracy Preservation Act (S1126), a bill designed to end the influence of foreign corporate money in statewide elections.

The legislation, introduced by Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, would bar corporations with partial foreign ownership from contributing to candidates, parties, or committees (including super PACs) or from engaging in their own direct election spending. A companion bill is expected to be introduced soon in the State Assembly. The State Senate previously passed the Democracy Preservation Act in June 2021, but the State Assembly was unable to vote on the bill before the end of the legislative session.

Across the country, companies with partial 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 Democracy Preservation Act are those owned 1% by one foreign investor, or 5% 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.

“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,” says Senator Gianaris. “Enactment of this bill would ensure that New York’s elections are decided by its people, not by big corporations.”

The Democracy Preservation Act cites inspiration from similar legislation passed in Seattle in 2020. 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 Seattle ordinance and has been working across the country to advance this model legislation. Six additional states (Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Oregon) are considering similar bans. Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland introduced in December the Get Foreign Money Out of U.S. Elections Act, which is a federal companion bill to the Democracy Preservation Act in New York.

“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 New York’s democratic self-government posed by corporate political spending by partly foreign-owned corporations,” says Free Speech For People Legal Director Ron Fein.

“The Democracy Preservation Act 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 New York State Senate for passing this bill and we urge the New York Assembly to do so as well and make New York the first state in the country to enact this model law.”

Free Speech For People is working in partnership with the Center For American Progress, Empire State Indivisible, and the New York Public Interest Research (NYPIRG) to support the Democracy Preservation Act. 

“New York’s notoriously porous campaign financing system needs an overhaul. The Democracy Preservation Act plugs a gaping loophole and sends a message to the nation that more can be done to rein in powerful foreign interests,” says Blair Horner, Executive Director of NYPIRG. “We urge the Assembly to approve the legislation and that the governor sign it.”