State and National Advocates Urge the Washington Legislature to Take Action to Pass HB 1885 and Defend Democracy

SEATTLE, WA (January 23, 2024) – Open Secrets, a national research and government transparency group, released a new case study today of state-level political expenditures by foreign-influenced corporations.  Of the six states detailed in the report, Washington State saw the largest amount of foreign-influenced corporate spending in state elections, with $67.8 million spent by such corporations between 2017 and 2022.

The Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC sanctioned political spending by corporate entities as political speech protected by the First Amendment on the claim that corporations are “associations of citizens.” Yet, the ruling also created a loophole for foreign investors to influence our elections. As many major corporations are owned in substantial part by foreign shareholders, they can now circumvent federal law which explicitly prohibits foreign nationals from making any political expenditures in U.S. elections.

A bill before the Washington legislature, HB 1885, would close the loophole and stop multinational corporations from spending money to influence elections.  

HB 1885 would end foreign-influenced corporate spending in elections in Washington State and protect the basic principle of democratic self-government,” said Cindy Black, Executive Director of Fix Democracy First.Washington would be one of the first states in the country to pass this bold reform and close an enormous loophole for foreign influence in our elections.” 

The policy grows from model legislation developed by Free Speech For People, a national nonpartisan non-profit organization that works to defend our democracy and our Constitution across the country. Free Speech For People helped to pass similar legislation in Minnesota in 2023 and in cities like San Jose, California and Seattle, Washington. Additional bills are under consideration in the California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York legislatures, as well as in the U.S. Congress. 

“By revealing the magnitude of the problem, the Open Secrets report lights a fire under Washington state leaders to stop foreign influence in their elections,” said Alexandra Flores-Quilty, Campaign Director for Free Speech For People. “HB 1885 is a critical reform to defend our democracy.”

The People Powered Elections Washington coalition which includes Fix Democracy First, The Washington Bus, Washington Community Alliance, League of Women Voters of Washington, Washington for Equitable Representation, Northwest Progress Institute, and Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, are helping to lead the effort to pass HB 1885. 

Nationally-known experts in constitutional law, campaign finance, and corporate governance have joined Free Speech For People’s efforts to advance this model bill, including Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School and Professor Adam Winkler of the University of California Law School, experts in constitutional law; Professor John C. Coates IV of Harvard Law School (also a former General Counsel and Director of the Division of Corporate Finance at the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission) and Professor Brian Quinn of Boston College School of Law, experts in corporate law and governance; and Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, expert in election law.

For more information about the legislation, including letters of support and analysis from Free Speech For People and Professor Tribe, click here.

To read the case study just released by Open Secrets, click here