Pennsylvania House Passes Bill Banning Foreign Influence In Elections Through Dark Money

“This is a revolutionary step forward for Pennsylvania that closes off a major threat to American self-government: foreign-influenced corporate political spending,” said MarchOnHarrisburg Executive Director Rabbi Michael Pollack.
democracy for sale
Activists rally at the White House, demanding democracy reforms. Photo courtesy of Public Citizen.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that aims to stop foreign influence in state and local politics. 

HB 2433 would ban foreign-influenced corporations from spending money to influence Pennsylvania elections. 

Pennsylvania has notoriously loose campaign finance laws, with no caps on the amount of money people can donate to politicians and political action committees (PACs).

While federal law already prohibits foreign citizens and groups from spending money on U.S. elections, U.S.-based corporations have much more leeway and can make political contributions even if they are owned in part by foreign entities.

Since corporations cannot make direct donations to political campaigns, however, corporations can engage in dark money spending by using their treasuries to funnel money into Super PACs, which are not required to disclose the source of their donations. Individuals and organizations outside the U.S. can interfere in elections by purchasing stocks in these corporations and using their authority to influence corporate political spending. 

Due to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, corporations can also spend unlimited funds on political campaigns through independent expenditures. 

READ: A Fair Tax Agenda for Wall Street

However, HB 2433 would only target dark money spending from foreign-influenced corporations, or multinational corporations, which the bill defines as those with a single foreign investor who “holds, owns, controls or otherwise has direct or indirect beneficial ownership of 1% or more of the total equity” or two or more foreign investors who own at least 5% of the total equity. 

Some foreign-influenced corporations include Amazon, Uber, and Shell.

The bill would require corporations to certify that they are not foreign-influenced when making political expenditures.

“This is a revolutionary step forward for Pennsylvania that closes off a major threat to American self-government: foreign-influenced corporate political spending,” MarchOnHarrisburg Executive Director Rabbi Michael Pollack said in a statement to the Bucks County Beacon. “Big multinational corporations are committed to doing what’s right for themselves and their investors, not for Pennsylvanians. HB 2433 passed because of the amazing work done by the pro-democracy movement and courageous legislators to pressure our State Legislature into putting our elections back into the hands of the people.”

Dark money donations played a role in Joe Rockey’s Allegheny County executive campaign in 2023. While he didn’t win the election, Rockey, a Republican, received undisclosed donations by way of a Virginia-based PAC, which spent nearly $1 million in ads attacking his Democratic opponent Sara Innamorato.

Rep. Joe Webster, a Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, is “pleased” that the House voted 126-76 to advance the legislation. All representatives serving Bucks County voted in favor of the bill, except for Republican Rep. Craig Staats.

READ: Billionaires Are Bad for Democracy. Taxing Them Is Good For It

“Preventing foreign influence in Pennsylvania’s elections preserves the commonwealth’s ability to self-govern and ensures that the only influences on Pennsylvania’s elections are Pennsylvania’s voters,” Webster said in a statement. 

While the bill was able to pass the House with bipartisan support, it will need to survive the Republican-led Senate before it can be signed into law, where it is expected to face opposition.

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Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer with a focus on culture, politics, education, and LGBTQ rights.

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