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Lancman bill to reduce corporate sway over politics

As a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate restrictions on corporate spending on political campaigns and advertising, state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) introduced legislation last week that attempts to curb the influence companies have on politics.

The bill, sponsored by Lancman and state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn), would require corporations to obtain shareholder approval before they make political contributions or expenditures for or against candidates, political issues or ballot referenda. Corporations, too, would have to issue annual reports on political expenditures to shareholders and the New York secretary of state.

The legislation comes after the Supreme Court’s January decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission that government could not interfere with the amount of money corporations could spend on political elections.

“Corporations aren’t people, and they don’t deserve the same rights people have to influence the political process,” Lancman said last Thursday. “At the very least, corporations should need permission from their shareholders before spending corporate resources on political campaigns and should disclose not only such expenditures but the business rationale for spending shareholder money to support or defeat a candidate.”

Squadron also criticized the Supreme Court’s decision and said the bill he and Lancman have introduced would make life more difficult for corporations that would want to flood the political arena with money.

“Unlimited corporate contributions are a real threat to our democratic process,” Squadron said. “We have to make sure that the Citizens United decision doesn’t allow a flood of corporate dollars to wash out the voice of the people. By requiring shareholder approval and public disclosure, this bill will rein in unchecked political influence by corporations and bring much-needed transparency to the process.”

Other state elected officials and nonprofit leaders have thrown their support behind the bill, including one of the bill’s co-sponsors, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), chairman of the Senate Elections Committee.

Addabbo called the Supreme Court’s decision a “great disservice to the public and its confidence in the election of our representatives by opening the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending to influence the outcome of our elections.”

New York Public Interest Research Group Legislative Director Blair Horner cheered the legislation.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision has triggered a national debate over how to bolster the accountability of unfettered corporate campaign giving,” Horner said. “NYPIRG applauds the proposal put forward by Sen. Squadron and Assembly member Lancman to help kick-start that debate in New York.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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