Citizens United: New York, California and Washington


The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case has rendered 24 states’ election laws unconstitutional. The 5-4 ruling in favor of Citizens United reversed a provision of the McCain-Feingold act that prohibited any electioneering communication—defined as advertising via broadcast, cable or satellite that is paid for by corporations or labor unions. Many states have acted fast to counter corporations’ ability to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections by passing laws that force disclosure of all independent expenditures in near real time. The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group has decided to report what each of these states is doing to respond to the highly-contested ruling. Today we’re looking at states that didn’t have to change their rules, but have anyway:

 States such as Washington, California and New York have altered campaign finance laws regarding independent expenditures by calling for more disclosure or requiring  shareholders’ approval before making expenditures.

Washington, for example, passed a law this year that requires political action committees making independent expenditures to disclose where the money funding the PAC comes from. However, this legislation has been in the works since 2009 and was not in response to the Citizens United decision.

Lori Anderson, a spokesperson for Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission, said that the increase in disclosure requirements is merely a coincidence.

Washington doesn’t have any restrictions on corporate spending in elections and has always mandated disclosure for money spent to influence elections. Incidentally—and very much worth noting— Washington has an excellent searchable database containing detailed information on who spent money and the purpose of the expenditure. 

California, a state that was responding to the Supreme Court ruling, has introduced both an Assembly bill and a House Resolution. The Resolution expresses California’s unhappiness with the ruling. The assembly bill will force corporations to gain shareholder approval before making any independent expenditures. The bill will also require annual disclosure to the Secretary of State’s Website.

New York is also increasing attention towards independent expenditures by corporations. New York, like California, is requiring corporations to have shareholder approval before going forward with independent expenditures. The organizations also have to file an annual disclosure with shareholders and the Secretary of State, which contain the business rationale for making expenditures. This is among states’ usual disclosure requirements, such as how much was spent and who the money was intended to support or oppose.