San Jose, CA, just passed a law that aims at removing foreign money and influence from local elections. The legislative milestone was cheered by U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) from as far away as Maryland because of its potential national impact.
Raskin wrote: “San Jose, California just outlawed campaign spending by foreign-influenced corporations in local elections. I’m thrilled to see legislation parallel to my federal Get Foreign Money Out of US Elections Act gaining momentum across the country.”
Exciting news: San Jose, California just outlawed campaign spending by foreign-influenced corporations in local elections. I'm thrilled to see legislation parallel to my federal Get Foreign Money Out of US Elections Act gaining momentum across the country. https://t.co/YpXo5Nbcx5— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) January 12, 2024
The law is crafted to have a much broader effect than merely stopping, say, a Chinese technology company from putting its foot on the scale in a mayoral race.
Instead, with the standards by which the legislation defines foreign ownership, the law effectually bars American corporate giants from buying influence too. That’s because a seemingly small foreign investor ownership of 1% — or 5% by multiple foreign investors — renders that company unable to spend money in local San Jose elections.
Pushed by the activist group Free Speech For People, the legislation effectively bans most of the Fortune 500 from participating financially in San Jose’s local elections. That includes local behemoths like Meta, Google, and Apple.
The move uses the ban on foreign influence to curtail what activists see as the damage done by the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which opened new avenues for corporations to influence elections, allowing companies large and small far greater latitude to financially back candidates who were in-turn incentivized to support corporate-friendly legislation.
National elections have the lion’s share of attention resulting from Citizens United, as corporations have filled the coffers of Senators and Congress members on both sides of the aisle — e.g., Ted Cruz, Joe Manchin, to name a few standout benificiaries. But it is in local elections where the big money has had perhaps even more powerful and outsize influence — a consequence the legislation attempts to curb.
“Today, we mark a crucial victory in protecting local democracy, pushing back against corporate influence, and rebuilding trust in our government. In the 2020 San José Mayoral Race we saw the toxic consequences of Big Money in politics and today’s success is a reflection of the leadership of people that united against that and took collective action to safeguard our democracy,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, Executive Director of Working Partnerships USA.