Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bad news from Humboldt County: Measure T falls in court

Corrected Post!
A California court has ruled Measure T, the Humboldt County (CA) ballot measure that limited campaign contributions in local elections by out-of-county corporations, is unconstitutional. (Nov. 17, 2008: The previous statement's incorrect. The court didn't issue a ruling--the Board of Supervisors and Pacific Legal Foundation settled. See below.) Here's the press release from Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County:

Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a joint settlement proposal in Federal Court today to label the county's ban on corporate campaign contributions "null and void". Known locally as Measure T, the Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy was a groundbreaking county-wide law that banned non-local corporations from contributing money to local elections and challenged the legal doctrine of Corporate Personhood - the idea that corporations can legally claim constitutional rights such as the First Amendment. Measure T passed by citizen's initiative in 2006 by 55%.

"We are deeply dismayed that our elected officials bowed so easily to the pressure from the corporate-backed Pacific Legal Foundation," said Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, the spokesperson for the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights, the group that ran the Measure. "We have offered help and support to the Board of Supervisors to do the right thing every step of the way - instead they chose to make this decision without soliciting input from the people of Humboldt County who were looking to them to defend our rights and respect our authority to determine what is best for our local elections."

Measure T was passed in June 2006 in reaction to repeated local campaigns with involvement from large corporations. The Measure received national attention when Humboldt County became the largest jurisdiction to directly challenge Corporate Personhood, and joined with dozens of communities across the country that have rejected the idea that a corporation can claim rights to overturn local laws that restrict their behavior.

While this is a sad day for democracy, the fight is far from over. Past social movements like the civil rights struggle, the abolitionists, women's suffragists and the trade unionists have shown us that when people don't back down, justice ultimately prevails," said Sopoci-Belknap. "All movements have their wins and losses, and the movement for local democracy and citizen sovereignty over large corporations will prevail. Humboldt County will play a role regardless of whether the current Board of Supervisors have the integrity to stand with us."

Pacific Legal Foundation, the organization that initiated the lawsuit against Humboldt County, is a Sacramento-based law firm backed by the types of corporations Measure T sought to restrict - companies like ExxonMobil and Philip Morris. In response to the lawsuit, many candidates in the recent local election races took a pledge to follow Measure T, regardless of the outcome. Many candidates declined contributions from companies that attempted to make political contributions to their campaigns and also pledged to publicly oppose the doctrine Corporate Personhood and to uphold the rights of citizens over those of corporations during their time in office. The majority of candidates taking the pledge were elected last Tuesday.

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