Queens senator spearheads ‘preserving democracy’ in new campaign finance laws

Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris. (Photo credit: Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

The state Senate passed Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris’ Democracy Preservation Act, prohibiting campaign contributions from foreign-influenced businesses, by a vote of 48-15.

Gianaris modeled bill S.1136-B after similar ordinances in Seattle, Wash., and St. Petersburg, Fla. In Seattle, Amazon funded more than $1.5 million in independent expenditures against city Council candidates who opposed its agenda. 

“Unlimited corporate spending has a pernicious effect on our elections, and my Democracy Preservation Act will make substantial inroads in fighting the undue influence of big corporations on our democracy,” Gianaris said. “Enactment of this bill would ensure that New York’s elections are decided by its people, not by big corporations.” 

Campaign finance laws have been thoroughly scrutinized on the national level many times. Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided in 2010 to reverse century-old campaign finance restrictions and allow corporations and other groups to spend an unlimited amount of money on elections in Citizens United

In New York, Gianaris’ Democracy Preservation Act prohibits companies with more than 1% stake owned by a foreign national or more than 5% owned by multiple foreign nationals from making political contributions in state and local campaigns. It would also forbid such entities from funding political action committees (PACs). 

Assembly member Latrice Walker, a sponsor of this bill who represents the 55th District in Brooklyn, said that she would work hard to ensure the Assembly passes this bill.

“The Citizens United decision wreaked havoc on our democracy — including giving unprecedented ability for foreign-owned corporations to influence our elections,” Walker said. “We must give New Yorkers the democracy they deserve.”

Gianaris is prioritizing democratic fundamentals such as voting and fair elections. The state senator recently got a voting reform bill signed into law that increases the mandated number of early voting sites and requires absentee ballots be counted in time for unofficial results.

Michael Sozan, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, said that Gianaris and the state Senate are leading the effort to protect democracy and put it back into the hands of the people. 

“The Assembly should now take all necessary steps to pass counterpart legislation and make New York the first state in the nation to codify this policy,” Sozan said. “As voters have repeatedly made clear, it is time to reduce foreign influence in our elections and lessen the outsize power of multinational corporations in our political system.”