People For the American Way

Proposed Local Ban on Super PACs Considered in St. Petersburg, FL

State and Local Update

The fight to create a democracy that stands up to wealthy special interests is a battle that must be fought on many fronts—and much of the progress is occurring on the local level. All around the country towns and cities are passing resolutions to create and strengthen small donor public financing programs, increase transparency, and support a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United.

In St. Petersburg, FL local lawmakers are even considering an ordinance that would effectively ban super PACs from spending money in local races, with a particular focus on ensuring that foreign-owned corporations are prohibited from influencing the outcomes of elections. The organization Free Speech For People, a partner organization of PFAW, has been in discussion with city council members regarding the proposed “Defend Our Democracy” ordinance.

While the legal theory surrounding this ordinance is considered to be sound, there is a chance the city of St. Petersburg could be sued, in which case the legal battle could be taken up to the Supreme Court. Fully aware of this possibility, Free Speech For People views such a scenario as an opportunity to potentially overturn the much maligned 2010 Citizens United ruling, which paved the way for corporations to be able to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

Last week representatives from Free Speech For People, joined by FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub, met with members of the St. Petersburg City Council to discuss the proposed ordinance. The council had previously voted in favor of further review in a 6-1 vote on July 21, 2016. At the hearing members of the council expressed clear, though cautious, support for moving forward with the proposed ordinance. The matter will likely be brought to a vote in the coming months.