Rice tries again to limit big money in city elections
St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice wants to keep corporate money out of city politics. It's the next progressive fight, she says, and will also help keep voters energized by Bernie Sanders' message engaged in local politics.
To that end, she's introducing a resolution at the July 21 meeting for the city to consider a ban on super PACs spending on city elections and requiring corporations to certify that they aren't foreign influenced.
First, the "foreign-influenced" thing. It's sound xenophobic, Rice said, but it's really a way to attack the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling "Citizens United," which removed many restrictions on political spending.
She points to a recent battle between Austin and Uber. That failed campaign by Uber to overturn a city ordinance requiring Uber drivers to be fingerpinted as part of a criminal background check. During that campaign, Uber disclosed billions of dollars of investment from Saudi Arabia.
St. Petersburg is considering a similar measure, she said. And while St. Pete welcomes foreign investment, she said, it shouldn't allow foreign money to stack the City Council or mayor's office, she said.
Federal law already prohibits foreign governments, companies and people who aren't U.S. citizens from making political contributions in federal, state and local election.
Such an ordinance could be challenged in court, she said.
"That would make this bigger than St. Pete," Rice said.
She's working with a Austin-based group, Free Speech for People, on the effort.
If she can persuade enough of her colleagues to go along next week, the proposal will be referred to a committee of the whole for an in-depth presentation, she said.
This time around, Rice hopes, the proposal to limit super PACs will address a criticism of her earlier effort to restrict individual contributions. By eliminating super PACs, the loophole by which wealthy donors could still pump large sums of money into an election would be closed.
"This is fending off a threat that's on our doorstep," Rice said. "We've got a lot of big projects coming down the pike. We might be spending millions on a stadium. Why not make sure our local democracy is protected."