Defending Foreign Corporate Election Spending Ban in Minnesota (Minnesota Chamber of Commerce v. Choi)


At a Glance

In 2023, Minnesota enacted a law prohibiting corporations with foreign owners from spending to influence Minnesota state elections. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sued to overturn the law on First Amendment and federal preemption grounds, and CLC has joined the case as an amicus curiae to help defend the law.

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About this Case

In 2023, Minnesota enacted the Democracy for the People Act, which included many pro-democracy policies relating to voting and campaign finance. The Act included provisions prohibiting for-profit corporations and limited liability companies with foreign ownership from making expenditures or contributions to influence voters’ decisions about candidates seeking election and ballot measures. The threshold of ownership that triggers the prohibition is 1% in the case of a single foreign investor or 5% in aggregate in the case of multiple foreign investors.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in July 2023 seeking to invalidate this prohibition on campaign spending by foreign-influenced corporations, arguing that it violated its members’ First Amendment rights and was preempted by federal law. 

In December 2023, CLC joined the case as an amicus curiae, filing a “friend of the court” brief defending the ban on foreign-influenced corporate campaign spending. CLC’s brief outlines how state laws seeking to shield state elections from the influence of foreign money are not preempted by federal law, and in fact are a critical tool to protect elections from foreign pressures and “preserve the basic conception of a political community.”

As Minnesota also argued, the U.S. Supreme Court has already approved the federal foreign money ban, affirming that citizens have “a compelling interest for purposes of First Amendment analysis in limiting the participation of foreign citizens in activities of American democratic self-government, and in thereby preventing foreign influence over the U.S. political process.” 

This interest is equally compelling with respect to efforts by states to prevent foreign nationals from spending money in state and local elections, and in particular ballot referenda, where voters participate in direct democracy to enact their own laws. Ten other states — from California to Maryland — have also enacted laws like Minnesota’s to prohibit foreign nationals pending to influence their citizen-initiated ballot measure processes.

What's at Stake?

American government is meant to be of, by, and for the people – free from foreign influence to protect the rights of American citizens to democratic self-governance. However, foreign interests – including foreign-owned businesses and other corporations – have spent substantial sums to influence U.S. elections at the federal, state, and local levels over the last decade, often overwhelming the resources of local citizens and advocacy groups.

Minnesota’s Democracy for the People Act and similar laws in other states are meant to prevent foreign-owned corporations from exerting undue influence over state elections and to vindicate their citizens’ interest in local self-governance.

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