On October 5, 2017, the City Council of St. Petersburg, Florida passed (by a 6-2 vote) a groundbreaking ordinance to abolish super PACs and limit spending by foreign-influenced corporations in city elections. The ordinance, the first of its kind in the nation, established limits on contributions to “independent-expenditure only” political action committees, known as super PACs, effectively abolishing super PACs in St. Petersburg elections. It also required corporations that spend $5,000 or more on St. Petersburg elections to certify they are not owned or controlled in significant part by foreign entities. The law took effect on January 1, 2018. We launched this campaign in 2016, and supported the effort with in-person and written testimony presented to the City Council. Special thanks to Karen Lieberman, the Lead Organizer of the Coalition for Campaign Finance Reform in St. Pete and a leader of American Promise-Tampa Bay; Julie Kessel, the President of the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area; Rae Claire Johnson, a leader of American Promise-Tampa Bay; City Council Member Darden Rice, the lead sponsor of this ordinance, and the courageous city councilmembers who voted with her to pass this ordinance; and the hundreds of citizens across St. Pete who stood up to defend our democracy and to help enact this model law—some of whom are featured in the inspiring short video below about the journey to victory in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, in May 2021, the Florida governor signed a law (SB1890) that expressly preempted Florida cities or counties from enacting local contribution or spending limits, and voiding any existing such laws. The Florida state legislature’s power grab may have stopped St. Petersburg, but it can’t stop a national movement. The St. Petersburg law made waves around the country, and helped spark a national movement. In January 2020, we helped Seattle pass a similar law. Today, bills are pending in states and cities around the country, and in Congress. Watch our video on the growing national movement led by Free Speech For People and our partner the Center for American Progress to pass laws banning corporate political spending by foreign-influenced corporations. I Our Journey to Victory in St. Petersburg! II Ordinance III In The News IV Letters in Support of the St. Petersburg Ordinance V Reports Our Journey to Victory in St. Petersburg! Our Journey to Victory in St. Petersburg! Ordinance Ordinance (Updated 11/13/2017) Ordinance Summary Statutes Referenced FAQ (One-Pager) FAQ (Detailed) Press Release (7/20/2016) Press Release (10/5/2017) In The News Council will look at limiting big money in St. Pete Elections Tampa Bay Times (10/5/2017) The Long Path to Reversing Citizens United Bill Moyers & Co. (10/27/2016) Local leaders turning the heat up on Citizens United The Hill (10/27/2016) How St. Pete Could Play a role in overturning Citizens United WMNF Radio, (10/27/2016) St. Pete, Let’s Take a Bite Out of Citizens United The Weekly Challenger (9/16/2016) Get Foreign Political Money Out of US Elections Boston Globe (7/22/2016) Plotting the End of Super PACs The American Prospect (7/21/2016) Florida Town Proposes a Ban on Super PACs—What Could Happen? YES! Magazine (7/21/2016) Keep Super PAC Cash out of St. Petersburg Elections Tampa Bay Times (7/15/2016) Letters in Support of the St. Petersburg Ordinance FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub Letter of Support University of Chicago Law School Professor Al Alschuler Letter of Support Harvard Law Professor John C. Coates Letter of Support & Report Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe Letter of Support Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe Letter Addressing Legislative Immunity Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried Letter of Support Stetson University School of Law Professor Joseph Morrissey Letter of Support Stephen R. Weissman, Ph.D. Letter of Support Reports Quantifying Foreign Institutional Block Ownership at Publicly Traded U.S. Corporations Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision invalidated restrictions on corporate political spending, considerable public and policymaker interest has developed in the potential for U.S. elections to be influenced by foreign interests through U.S. corporations. On the one hand, existing federal law (the Federal Election Campaign Act) already prohibits political spending in federal, state, or local elections by corporations that are incorporated outside the U.S., or which have their principal place of business abroad. On the other hand, current law still allows substantial avenues for foreign influence over corporate political spending by U.S.-incorporated and -based corporations. Lawmakers in Congress and members of the Federal Election Commission have expressed interest in addressing this phenomenon. As of yet, federal reform proposals have failed to advance. A more likely near-term prospect for new policy measures is at the state and local level. Local governments (notably in St. Petersburg, Florida) are now contemplating measures to address this concern. This paper focuses on ownership of significant blocks of stock as a potential mechanism for foreign influence over corporate political spending. We found that roughly one in eleven (9%) companies in the S&P 500 has one or more foreign institutions each owning five percent or more blocks of stock, nine have foreign institutions with ten percent or more blocks, five have a foreign institution with more than fifteen percent, and three have foreign institutions with more than 20% blocks. Three firms have multiple foreign institutional blockholders. This is the first recent empirical analysis of the level of foreign institutional blockholder ownership of publicly traded corporations. Download the Report! The SpeechNow Case and the Real World of Campaign Finance In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s SpeechNow decision, which created super PACs, the court theorized that contributions to so-called “independent expenditure committees” could not possibly result in corruption. In the real political world, however, as this study shows, top donors to super PACs and other independent spenders are not only contributing to these groups. They are simultaneously giving directly to the very candidates who benefit from their contributions to independent spending. The typical two-track donor supports multiple candidates in this fashion. Thus, while independent spending groups are legally restrained from coordinating with their beneficiaries, donors to such groups are legally permitted to financially coordinate with these same candidates within certain contribution limits. When donors amplify their legally limited direct contributions to candidates with unlimited indirect support via independent spending groups, an “anti-corruption interest in limiting contributions to an independent expenditure group” certainly arises. These unlimited contributions intensify the dangers of quid pro quo corruption and its appearance that contribution limits were established to prevent. Download the Report!