Seattle moves to curb corporate political donations as Amazon.com flexes its muscle

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Seattle, the city Amazon.com has increasingly flexed its political muscle, is expected to approve the legislation banning political contributions by companies with at least 5% foreign ownership, on Monday.

This move is likely to trigger a debate on the legality of corporate donations in U.S. elections while drawing an immediate court challenge.

A six-member committee of Seattle City Council has unanimously approved the measure. This almost ascertains that the full nine-member council will pass it on Monday.

The bill is widely viewed as aimed at reining in political spending from companies such as Amazon.com (AMZN.O), which donated a record $1.5 million to back a slate of pro-business candidates in the November council elections – a campaign that was largely unsuccessful. According to financial data provider Refinitiv, foreign investors own at least 9% of Amazon’s stock.

Jim Manley, an attorney with the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, told Reuters, “What they are proposing is likely an unconstitutional backdoor ban on U.S. companies speaking about local elections.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling struck down limits on political campaign contributions by unions or corporations. Companies and unions may not give money directly to campaigns but may spend unlimited amounts on ads and other means.

The legislation before the Seattle City Council says that companies that have at least 5% of their shares held by foreigners, or 1% by a single foreigner, are subject to foreign influence and therefore cannot participate in elections.

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