Corporate influence in US elections

Campaign contributions from powerful multinational corporations, write Bonifaz and Flores-Quilty, "are troubling and indicative of a larger problem in our political system: the unrestrained financial influence of major multinational corporations flies in the face of everything our democracy is supposed to be." (Photo: iStock/via Getty Images)

Foreign-Influenced Corporate Spending Is Inherently Anti-Democratic

We must commit to immediately end the influence of multinational corporations in our elections.

Following the January 6th insurrection, in which hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair democratic election, major corporations were quick to publicly condemn the violence and said they would stop bankrolling the Members of Congress who sought to block certification of the election results. They stated that these 147 members of the "Sedition Caucus" were to blame for perpetuating the Big Lie and therefore would not receive their campaign contributions.

Nearly one year later, it has become clear that these promises were just lip service. Recent FEC filings show that major corporations and trade groups have already donated over $5.8 million to funds benefiting members of the Sedition Caucus. These corporations and interests have prioritized fueling the political machine for their own self-benefit over the future of our democracy and the American people.

We have the power to put an end to this form of foreign dominance in our elections.

These contributions are troubling and indicative of a larger problem in our political system: the unrestrained financial influence of major multinational corporations flies in the face of everything our democracy is supposed to be. It drowns out the voices of the people our leaders are elected to represent. It also weakens the commitment the United States makes to combat foreign influence in our elections when its largest backers are significantly owned by non-US interests. Because of Amazon's contributions to candidates and PACs, stockholders with Norges Bank have more of a say in labor laws affecting the company than do its own warehouse workers.

We've witnessed money from corporations with significant foreign ownership flowing into our elections, circumventing direct bans on foreign influence enshrined in federal law. The Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United created a massive 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. Across the country, companies like Amazon and Airbnb with partial foreign ownership have used their money to influence the outcome of elections and to advance political agendas in their favor.

It's contributions like these that fuel action (or inaction) on the issues that impact the everyday lives of the American people. Can't afford your prescription medication? Pfizer and Eli Lilly backed representatives who voted against drug price negotiation legislation. Afraid we can't act in time to slow the climate crisis? Global fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron have donated millions to politicians seeking to strip down legislation promoting clean energy. Wanting to break away from services like Amazon that treat their workers poorly and keep tabs on you? Amazon and Facebook are now the country's biggest spenders, giving over $3 million in 2020 to legislators directly responsible for the privacy and antitrust policies that affect them. The list goes on.

We have the power to put an end to this form of foreign dominance in our elections. On Tuesday, December 14, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland introduced the Get Foreign Money Out of U.S. Elections Act. This bill would ban corporations with partial foreign ownership from contributing to candidates, parties, or committees (including super PACs), or from engaging in their own direct election spending.

The City of Seattle has already enacted this legislation, and a version known as the Democracy Preservation Act passed in the New York State Senate in June. Five additional states (Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Oregon) are considering similar bans.

We must commit to ending the influence of multinational corporations in our elections. In a democracy, the people, not multinational corporations, shall govern.

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