Seven states have banned foreign spending in ballot measure elections. Maine voters will decide the issue with Question 2 on Nov. 7.

In Maine, voters will decide on Question 2 on Nov. 7. Question 2, a citizen-initiated statute, would prohibit foreign governments, or entities with at least 5% foreign government ownership or control, from spending money to influence ballot measures or candidate elections.

Federal law currently prohibits contributions, donations, expenditures (including independent expenditures), and disbursements by foreign nationals to any federal, state, or local candidate election but not ballot measure elections. Question 2 would prohibit foreign government expenditures under state law and include ballot measure elections. Therefore, Question 2 would prohibit foreign spending on ballot measure elections that federal law does not prohibit.

Currently, seven states—California, Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington—prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to ballot measure campaigns, and two cities—Seattle, Washington, and San Jose, California—banned election spending by foreign-influenced entities.

California was the first state to adopt a ban via legislation in 1997. Two states—Colorado and North Dakota—adopted a ban via ballot measures in 2002 and 2018, respectively.

Two cities—Seattle, Washington, and San Jose, California—have banned election spending by foreign-influenced entities. In 2020, the Seattle City Council banned corporations with any foreign investor holding at least 1% ownership, two or more holding at least 5% ownership, or a non-U.S. investor from making contributions to candidates or PACs. In 2022, the San Jose City Council passed a campaign finance law that prohibited corporations from spending money in San Jose elections if they are foreign-influenced, which was defined as a company having more than 1% ownership by a single foreign national or more than 5% ownership by multiple foreign nationals.

St. Petersburg, Florida had also previously banned foreign-influenced entities from making contributions to political campaigns by passing a law in 2017 that banned corporations having more than 5% ownership by a single foreign national, or more than 20% ownership by multiple foreign nationals, from making political contributions. In 2021, SB 1890 was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which prohibited counties and municipalities from enacting spending or contribution limits beyond state limits.

Maine Question 2 is an indirect initiated state statute that was passed by the state legislature but vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills (D), ultimately sending it to the November ballot.

Sen. Rick Bennett (R-19), who supports the measure, said, “It is unconscionable that foreign governments are currently permitted to dump millions of dollars into referendum campaigns, the very tool which Maine voters can directly affect state law. In order to maintain the integrity of our elections and political process, we have an obligation to close the loophole identified by the FEC in 2021, and it’s no surprise that Maine voters agree.”

The Bangor Daily News Editorial Board is opposed to Question 2, saying, “We are unconvinced that the proposal contained in Question 2 strikes the delicate balance needed with this issue and thus recommend a no vote. … This proposal goes beyond targeting foreign governments, in a very expansive way. The words ‘entities that they own, control, or influence’ are very broad.” 

Maine voters will also be deciding on three other initiatives and four legislative referrals on Nov. 7. 

Additional reading: Maine 2023 ballot measures