Politico New York: Gianaris to introduce Seattle-inspired bill to limit Citizens United

Originally published in Politico New York on January 14, 2020.

A day after Seattle lawmakers passed legislation designed to rein in spending by super PACs, Senate Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris says he’s planning to bring a similar measure to New York.

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, governments have not been able to limit the amount of money that incorporated entities spend on independent expenditures attempting to sway elections.

But courts have historically allowed limits on donations from foreign entities. Seattle’s measure, similar to one that passed in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2017 , attempts to limit the effect of Citizens United by prohibiting independent expenditures from corporations if foreign investors own at least 5 percent of the company, or if an individual foreign investor has at least a 1 percent share.

“Many of us have been seeking ways to fight back against the Citizens United decision since it was handed down,” Gianaris said. “Given this Supreme Court, it’s unlikely we’ll get judicial relief anytime soon, so there’s a creative approach that a couple of jurisdictions have taken which works within the constraints of that decision to limit big money and unlimited money in campaigns.”

In state elections, at least, there has yet to be an overwhelming amount of corporate money flowing to super PACs. Labor unions, wealthy real estate developers who live in Manhattan, and billionaire investors who promote charter schools have combined to make up a sizable majority of the independent spending on Senate races since new disclosure rules were implemented last decade.

“We wouldn’t capture every scenario, we would capture a lot of them,” Gianaris said. “It’s an important step towards beginning to put some restraints on unlimited spending in campaigns. I would prefer just to repeal Citizens United and just deal with it cleanly and establish limits across the board on independent spending, but given that I don’t the power to overrule the Supreme Court by myself, nor does our Legislature, we’re trying to work within the constraints that are established.”

The Seattle bill was inspired in large part by a $1.5 million spending effort that area company Amazon made in last year’s City Council Elections.

Gianaris, of course, has done as much as any elected official in the country in recent years to enrage the corporate behemoth. Is he by any chance worried that Amazon might make its presence felt in his Queens district?

“This is not anything specific like that,” he said. “I’ve been a critic of Citizens United for many years and an advocate for cleaner campaigns for a very long time.”

Read the article on Politico New York here