Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lawsuit targets Humboldt County (CA) Measure T

The Humboldt County Coalition for Community Rights and Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County have learned that Measure T, a groundbreaking local campaign finance ordinance, is being challenged in federal court.

The suit has been filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, an anti-government, pro-big-business group, on behalf of Mercer-Fraser, Co., a construction company, and O&M Industries, a steel fabricator and manufacturer of heating systems. Pacific Legal is seeking an immediate injunction to halt Measure T prior to local elections in November.

Organizers write, "We understood that such a legal challenge could occur when we worked on the Measure T campaign, and we are working to create a plan of action. Constitutional law expert John Bonifaz, who pledged during the campaign to serve pro bono as special legal counsel to Humboldt's county counsel, has already confirmed his ability to do so."

Click "read more" to see the groups' press release.

EUREKA, CA - A groundbreaking law forbidding out-of-county controlled corporations from making political contributions in Humboldt County, CA elections was challenged in federal court this week. The Pacific Legal Foundation, an anti-government legal organization, filed suit on behalf of O&M Industries and Mercer Fraser Corporation over a local corporate reform and election integrity law. The Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Fair Elections and Local Democracy was passed by citizens' initiative in June 2006 with 55% of the vote.

Known locally as "Measure T," the initiative was run by a broad coalition of community organizations, individuals and local businesses concerned by the growing influence of corporate power in elections. Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, a local grassroots organization, spearheaded the effort by writing the initial legislation and the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights campaigned for the law.

Upon passage, Measure T received national attention because it includes a direct challenge to "corporate personhood," which is the legal doctrine that allows a corporation to claim constitutional rights such as the First Amendment. Corporations have argued that the First Amendment protects their right to give political contributions.

"Money does not equal speech, and corporations should not be allowed to claim First Amendment rights - 'We the People' have an obligation to challenge unjust doctrines," said Democracy Unlimited Director Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap. "Measure T follows in the footsteps of the suffragists, the abolitionists and the Civil Rights activists who fought against segregation by challenging Supreme Court precedents that held unjust laws to be Constitutional."

“The County’s donation restriction runs the First Amendment through a shredder,” said Pacific Legal Foundation Attorney Damien Schiff in a press release. “The County’s ordinance is an outrageous assault on these free speech rights, because it targets a class of employers to be shut out of the political process.”

"Not true," said Sopoci-Belknap, "Measure T specifically protects an individual's right to participate in elections. It ensures that owners of corporations will operate as individuals in the political process, just like every other citizen, rather than gaining undue influence through their corporations."

The Pacific Legal Foundation is a Sacramento, California-based legal organization that was established March 5, 1973 to support pro-corporate causes. In recent years, it has taken a lead in pursuing anti-affirmative action policies. It is the key right-wing public interest litigation firm in a network of similar organizations funded to support big business and oppose environmental and health protection policies and government regulation.

Measure T opponents repeatedly threatened to sue to overturn the law if it passed. Billionaire financier Robin Arkley Jr., who is one of California Governor Schwarzenegger's largest contributors, sent a memo to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors during the campaign warning them of a lawsuit after the measure qualified, and demanding they remove the measure from the ballot. Arkley's late father Robin Arkley, Sr., served on the Board of Trustees of the Pacific Legal Foundation.

"We are not surprised by this action, but we are certainly disappointed that the Pacific Legal Foundation has so little regard for the will of the people of Humboldt County," said Sopoci-Belknap. "Communities have the right and duty to protect our democracy. Voters enacted Measure T based on a legitimate concern that corporate influence in elections undermines the integrity of the process. Humboldt County has taken a stand for the rights of people and communities over the so-called 'rights' of corporations, and we ask other communities to stand with us."

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