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Local Ordinance Unfair

Glenn Franco Simmons, Eureka Reporter Managing Editor
January 23, 2006
Get Involved Today!The "Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy" — which apparently has garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot — is a marvelous example of the ways in which elements of our society waste their political efforts and our working capital. It is clearly unconstitutional, poorly conceived and completely unworkable, and its passage can only cost us money.

The proposed ordinance seeks to prohibit "non-local corporations" from making any kind of political contribution, direct or indirect, to support or oppose any candidate for political office or "any initiative, referendum or recall election" anywhere in Humboldt County. It defines a "non-local" corporation as one that has any employee or stockholder who resides outside of Humboldt County.

First, the right of a corporation to contribute to any ballot measure campaign is coextensive with the right of an individual, and any difference in rules violates the U.S. Constitution. First National Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (U.S. 1978). The ordinance treats individuals and corporations differently with respect to certain campaign contributions, and for that reason is unconstitutional.

Nor does the Constitution permit treating contributions from out of an area [Vannatta v. Keisling, 151 F.3d 1215 (9th Cir. 1998)] or from out of a state [Whitmore v. Federal Election Comm’n., 68 F.3d 1212 (9th Cir. 1995)] differently than it treats local contributions. The ordinance purports to prohibit "non-local" contributions, and for that reason as well is unconstitutional.

The right of a corporation to express itself on a public issue, and spend its money to do so, is inviolate. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Comm’n., 475 U.S. 1 (1986). The ordinance attempts to limit this right for some corporations, but not others — thus infringing upon certain corporations’ rights of free speech as well as their right to equal protection under the law — and for those reasons it is unconstitutional.

Perhaps recognizing the inherent unconstitutionality of the ordinance, its drafters included a provision that no "corporation shall be entitled to claim Constitutional rights or protections in an effort to overturn this law."

But a local electorate can no more take away a corporation’s constitutional right by majority vote than it can withdraw a citizen’s right to vote, his or her freedom of religion, or his or her right to equal protection under the law.

Nor does the ordinance make any sense. By its terms, it would prohibit a small, family corporation operating a business in Garberville from sending out a mailer or paying for a small political ad in connection with a city election simply because one of its employees lives in Piercy.

Should the proposed ordinance pass, one can be sure that its legality will be challenged promptly. That, of course, will require the county to spend money — at least in the trial court and perhaps on appeal as well — in a futile attempt to sustain it.

Finally, when it is struck down, as it surely will be, the successful opponent may well have the right to recover its attorney’s fees from the county. That’s not how the county needs to spend its precious resources.

(Glenn Franco Simmons is the managing editor of The Eureka Reporter.)

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Humboldt County Leaders Endorse Measure T!

Democratic Party of Humboldt County

Green Party of Humboldt County

Central Labor Council of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local #1684

Building and Construction Trades of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties

Carpenters Union Local #751

Operating Engineers Union Local #3 AFL-CIO

Paul Gallegos, Humboldt County District Attorney

Peter LaVallee, Eureka Mayor

Chris Kerrigan, Eureka City Council

Dave Meserve, Arcata City Council

Harmony Groves, Arcata City Council

Paul Pitino, Arcata City Council

Bob Ornelas, Former Arcata Mayor

Connie Stewart, Former Arcata Mayor

Elizabeth Conner, Former Arcata City Council

Julie Fulkerson, Former Humboldt County Board of Supervisors

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