Yes On Measure T! On June 6th Vote YES for Local Control of Our Democracy!
Get Involved Today!       Make a Donation!      Get Email Alerts!

News Articles

'T' Time: Backers, Detractors Weigh in on Anti-Corporation Initiative

Helen Sanderson, Northcoast Journal
May 25, 2006

Get Involved Today!Listening to Fortuna attorney Robert Zigler speak to a crowd of mostly white-haired women at the Red Lion Inn in Eureka last Friday, it was clear that the debate over the passage of Measure T was getting ugly.

Zigler seemed genuinely flabbergasted as he told the Eureka Republican Women at the luncheon to "be afraid" of Measure T, the ballot initiative that seeks to ban outside corporate spending — read: Wal-Mart, Maxxam — in Humboldt County elections. From his point of view, Measure T restricts a corporation's constitutional right to free speech and therefore would never survive a costly legal challenge.

To anyone who has been paying attention to the ongoing debate over Measure T, Zigler's protestations were nothing new. Even the same lingo — "power grab," "disenfranchise," "personal agenda" — popped up repeatedly. What's changed is that what started as a nonpartisan duel has steadily become just that: right versus left, conservative versus progressive, old guard versus new. Add Humboldt's pre-eminent Republican millionaire philanthropist to the mix and the division seems to get wider, prompting warring politicos to take the gloves off.

image from No On T website"It's fascist," Zigler said. "I totally agree with Rob Arkley" (the owner of Eureka-based Security National and the Eureka Reporter). Arkley was not at the luncheon, but in publicized letters to local elected officials he urged the county to strike down Measure T or risk facing a costly lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

Zigler went on to paint Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County — the parent of the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights, which authored the ordinance — as a group of left-wing radicals not even originally from Humboldt County, with a single-minded goal of subverting corporate personhood. He quoted heavily from the group's website, as well as 28-year-old DUHC member Ryan Emenaker's "MySpaces" (sic) account, and spared no harsh words for Measure T's 26-year-old Campaign Manager, Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap.

"Know your enemy," he urged the 40 or so Republican women. "Know who's on the other side of you."

BACK UP OFF US. The impetus for Measure T — aka "The Ordinance to Protect Our Rights to Fair Elections and Local Democracy" — was born of the failed recall attempt of District Attorney Paul Gallegos in 2003-04.

In response to a fraud lawsuit Gallegos filed against Maxxam Corp. — Pacific Lumber's Texas-based corporate parent — the company spent more than $300,000 to get the recall on the ballot and promote it. Gallegos volunteers, many from Democracy Unlimited, worked around the clock to keep the DA in office and later crafted the ordinance to keep such a corporate-funded drive from hijacking elections again. According to Sopoci-Belknap, about 60 people had input on the ordinance, the result of approximately six months of work.

In the draft process the group researched past election expenditures to find out how many businesses and unions contributed to political campaigns.

"We looked at ... the recall campaign, we looked at one of the supervisors races — kind of the bigger races," Sopoci-Belknap said. "There really weren't many business contributions." She said that most small business owners appeared to be giving as individuals.

And that's the thing. Under T, individuals local and non-local — that means Rob Arkley and Charles Hurwitz — will still be allowed to throw money at Humboldt County elections. That doesn't necessarily mean they will do so, Sopoci-Belknap said."There are greedy people who have agendas," she said, "but I would think that Charles Hurwitz is not going to spend $100,000 of his own money in a local election here."

Nonlocal nonprofits wouldn't be allowed to contribute to campaigns, either. That includes Sopoci-Belknap's employer, Democracy Unlimited. By the narrow definition of Measure T, which states that headquarters, all employees and shareholders must be in Humboldt County, DUHC is not "local" because it's a project of a California nonprofit.

A major source of contention between Yes and No factions is the involvement of unions in campaign contributions. The way Measure T is drafted, unions — as long as they have local members — can contribute. So, for example, if the local chapter of the California Nurses Association wants to give money to a local campaign, they can. Meanwhile, St. Joseph Hospital, an Orange County-based nonprofit, cannot contribute.

Crawford thinks that's bogus. Sopoci-Belknap says unions are meant to protect employees' rights, not like a corporation that tries to protect its investments. Their union fees entitle them the right to give a specified amount of money to political campaigns. She also asserts that most unions give very little, generally only a few hundred dollars per campaign.

WHO'S AFRAID OF MEASURE T? No on Measure T (NOT) Campaign Manager Chris Crawford won't concede to fearing Measure T. "I'm not afraid of anything," he said. "I'm just affronted." He claims Measure T is "farcical on its face."

The beefy 53-year-old business owner with the blond wavy hair can talk a good game, and certainly comes off as authoritative — intimidating, even — but his record is not as commanding. Crawford ran unsuccessfully for Humboldt County Supervisor in 2000 and was campaign manager for Rex Bohn, who lost in 2004's race against incumbent Chris Kerrigan for Eureka City Council.

Currently, he is the spokesman for the Humboldt Business Council, a 501(c)4 "dedicated to job growth and job-friendly regulations on the North Coast." Purported members include timber companies among other large businesses, though Crawford would not divulge the group's membership.

According to its website, the recently formed Humboldt Business Council has taken favorable positions on permitting for Evergreen Pulp, Balloon Track development and the Hampton Suites project on the Eureka waterfront.

Thought it would appear that the Humboldt Business Council and Democracy Unlimited are at opposite ends of the advocacy spectrum, Crawford maintains that No on T has a broad demographic of support.

"You can tell just by some of the endorsements and some of the people participating in this that this isn't just some wacko right wing knee-jerk reaction to [Measure T]," he said. Notables on the endorsements page include former Palco CEO and current Fortuna Mayor John Campbell, 2nd District Supervisor Roger Rodoni, the Eureka Reporter, the Humboldt Sentinel, the Eureka Greens, the Republican Party of Humboldt County and the Libertarian Party of Humboldt County.

Another exception Crawford takes to Yes on T's campaign is that the measure's supporters are not adhering to their own principles in that they have raised campaign funds from nonlocal entities — $7,600, at last count.

"This is a fundamental attack on our basic democratic principles," Crawford said. "It's cloaked as campaign finance reform, which is what most people want."

Crawford and NOT are among them, advocating for "true" campaign finance reform in the form of a $500 limit for political campaign contributions. They've already imposed the donation cap on their own campaign fundraising.

"I think it would solve all of these problems if there was a $500 cap," he went on. "But, you know, the devil is always in the details of these things. I think you would have to get together various stakeholder groups and come up with some language and some questions to resolve reasonable accommodations."

Sopoci-Belknap said that a $500 limit would compliment Measure T. In her view, Humboldt County is big enough for both campaign finance reform initiatives.

SO SUE ME. A Humboldt State University graduate student also contributed his thesis project to the effort, conducting a telephone survey in which he asked Humboldt County residents about their perception of corruption in local political campaigns. Seventy-eight percent of respondents agreed that "when corporations financially contribute to the electoral process it makes political corruption more likely."

It's Yes on T's claim that results of the survey, along with the recall attempt and the Wal-Mart 1999 ballot initiative to change zoning laws on the Eureka waterfront, is enough evidence to prove that the citizenry in Humboldt County believes the local democratic process is undermined by corporate advocacy. Yes on T supporters believe this means it is within the county's legal rights to impose an initiative such as Measure T. The only way to test their claim is through a legal challenge.

If Measure T passes, and a legal challenge is launched, the county could possibly spend a great deal of money defending it. (Crawford made it clear that he will not be launching any lawsuits: "I spent my life working in courts, and I know not to go there.")

But Yes on T says that lots of initiatives are threatened with a legal challenge when they're on the ballot, just like Proposition 215 was, and the threat of a lawsuit is no reason to back out. Besides, supporters have been offered pro bono legal aid from attorney John Bonifaz, a Democrat who is currently seeking to become secretary of state in Massachusetts.

Bonifaz, a confident speaker with a head of thick brown hair that would rival any Kennedy's, has visited Eureka to speak about the legal standing of Measure T. At a forum in April he made a case for the ordinance.

He explained that the 1978 Supreme Court case First National Bank of Boston v. Belotti stemmed from a situation similar to that of Measure T, where a ballot initiative was passed to bar corporate spending in elections. The initiative was challenged in court and was found to be unconstitutional. But, in a later opinion, Judge William Rehnquist explained that the court overturned the Massachusetts initiative because there was no evidence to prove that the electoral process was distorted, nor that citizen confidence in elections was diminished. In essence, Bonifaz argues that Measure T meets that test because Humboldt County can prove its elections have been negatively influenced by corporations.

Belknap and Yes on T supporters see Measure T as in-step with the fight for civil rights. They liken it to the end of racial segregation and the emancipation of women. They also delight in the coincidence that their ordinance was assigned the letter "T," and draw parallels to the Boston Tea Party, the legendary act of civil disobedience in which B-towners messed with parliament and the British East India Company, one of the largest corporations in the world at that time, sparking the Revolutionary War.

Meanwhile, Crawford's assertion remains that too much money is spent on elections and a financial cap would solve the county's election woes. He cited the example of Bohn's race against incumbent Chris Kerrigan in 2004, in which local businessman Bill Pierson contributed over $20,000 to finance Bohn's (and Crawford's) opponent. "It's ridiculous," he yelled into the phone, "for a $500 a month city council [seat] to cost $85,000!"

AMPLIFIED SPEECH. That is a point where both sides agree. But the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights would frame it another way, and say that money is not speech, money is an amplifier to speech. The more money you have the more you get to talk to the public, and the most money pumped into elections has historically come from big businesses.

John Bonifaz contends that while corporations have the First Amendment right to free speech, they do not have the right to drown out other people's voices.

"The right to vote is far more than the right to simply pull that lever on election day," he said. "It's the right to an equal and meaningful vote, and that includes equal and meaningful participation in the entire election process — not just on election day."

Write a letter to the editor in response to this article!

Return to News


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

... and hundreds of other individuals and local businesses! Join us today!

View the full list of public endorsements!


Learn More!

Pros and Cons of Measure T

Learn more about Measure T in a Pros and Cons Video, produced by Eileen McGee (51 mins)


Radio Ads


Chris Kerrigan, Eureka City Counsel, and Kate Christensen, owner of The Garden Gate, support Measure T! (1 min)


Paul Gallegos, Humboldt County District Attorney, and Nezzie Wade, community member, support Measure T! (1 min)


Larry Glass, owner of The Works, and Dennis Rael, owner of Los Bagles, support Measure T! (1 min)