Campaigners with We Choose Us celebrate the passage of the Democracy for the People Act

Campaigners with We Choose Us celebrate the passage of the Democracy for the People Act on April 13, 2023 in St. Paul, Minnesota, with state Rep. Emma Greenman (far right).

(Photo: @Minnesota_Voice/Twitter)

Minnesota Dems Advance Bill to Ban Election Interference by Multinational Corporations

"The Democracy for the People Act will help put power back in the hands of citizens," said one campaigner.

Campaigners who have long pushed cities and states to adopt bans on foreign corporate interference in elections applauded Friday after the Minnesota House of Representatives passed legislation that would make the state the first to prohibit foreign-influenced corporations from spending money on electoral campaigns.

The provision is part of the Democracy for the People Act, which passed 70-57 along party lines late Thursday night after several hours of debate.

The national nonprofit organization Free Speech for People successfully advocated for Democrats in the state House to include the new rule, which would prohibit companies with at least a 5% ownership stake by multiple foreign owners or a 1% stake by a single foreign owner from spending money in Minnesota state and local elections. The companies would also be barred from donating to super PACs.

"Multinational corporations are corrupting representative democracy by drowning out the voices of the people," said Alexandra Flores-Quilty, campaign director at Free Speech For People. "The Democracy for the People Act will help put power back in the hands of citizens."

The organization pushed lawmakers in Seattle to pass similar legislation in 2020, and Hawaii, California, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts are all considering state-level bans modeled on a proposal developed by Free Speech for People.

The group worked closely with state Rep. Emma Greenman (DFL-63B) to pass the legislation.

"This package of commonsense solutions rests on a simple premise," said Greenman during the debate over the bill, "that our state works best when Minnesota voices are at the center of our democracy."

The legislation now heads to the state Senate, where the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL)—the state's affiliate of the Democratic Party—has a majority of seats. Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) has said he supports the bill.

We Choose Us, a statewide grassroots coalition of advocacy groups and unions, conducted polling last November and found that 80% of Minnesota voters back the provision barring election interference by multinational companies.

"Minnesota has long been a leader in democracy and so it's no surprise that the House voted today to put Minnesota on the path to becoming the first state to prohibit foreign-influenced corporations from spending in our elections," said Lilly Sasse, campaign director for We Choose Us. "It's clear to the people of Minnesota that prohibiting foreign-influenced corporations from spending in our elections is good for our democracy. And after today, it's clear that we're on the path to signing it into law."

The group also found broad support for other provisions in the Democracy for the People Act, including automatic voter registration, backed by 73% of Minnesota voters.

The legislation would also permit 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote, establish a statewide vote-by-mail system, protect election workers and voters from harassment, and require voting instructions and ballots to be provided in non-English languages.

"Minnesotans want to ensure that voters always will have the biggest say in the decisions that will impact their lives," state House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-34B) told the ABC affiliate KSTP. "Our legislation will strengthen the freedom to vote, protect our democratic institutions and Minnesota voters, and empower voters, not corporations or wealthy special interests in our elections.”

Free Speech for People is also backing a federal proposal by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) to bar multinational corporations from interfering in elections.

"By banning multinational corporations spending unlimited sums of money to influence our elections," said the group, "we are upholding the letter of the law and getting us one step closer to a democracy that is truly by and for the people.

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