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Organizers: Corporate Donation Ban Legal

James Faulk, Times-Standard
Feburary 23, 2006

Get Involved Today!EUREKA - Organizers trying to pass a ban on non-local donations to local races this week produced a list of legal scholars who support their effort.

This comes after a legal expert recently criticized the local ballot measure, saying that it was unconstitutional and would lose any court challenge.

But backers say Measure T, as the corporate donation ban is called, would stand a legal test.

"The Supreme Court has ruled that a community can limit corporate contributions if it is shown that such contributions undermine citizen's confidence in their own government," said Peter Gabel of the New College of California Law School in San Francisco, in a news release. "Measure T is carefully crafted to meet that requirement by literally building the finding into the law itself. I believe this law would withstand a legal challenge."

Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, campaign manager of the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights, said that more than three-quarters of the public in Humboldt County believe that corporate contributions threaten the integrity of local elections.

"We have identified a very real problem and this is a legally sound and common-sense way to restore citizen confidence in elections at the local level," she said.

Attorney Robert Benson of the Loyola University's law school has also endorsed the effort.

"Citizen activists play a vital role in our society when they challenge the courts to justify judicial doctrines that have lost touch with fundamental democratic values," he said. "Measure T does just that. If I lived in Humboldt County I would proudly vote for it."

Another supporter is John Bonifaz, founder of the National Voting Rights Institute.

"The real issue at stake is whether Humboldt voters support community rights or the idea that Wal-Mart and other large corporations should be able to distort the political process," he said. "This initiative is critical to ensuring local democratic control of elections."

If the law passes and it does get challenged, it could move to the forefront of a movement to end corporate personhood -- which affords corporations the right of an individual. That battle would be what many have long been waiting for, but it could also be very expensive.

Sopoci-Belknap said taking on corporate personhood is not the main objective.

"Our primary goal is not to address corporate personhood, it is to address the very real problem of outside corporate contributions undermining the local democratic process," she said. "We have carefully crafted our law in an effort to ensure that it has the best chance possible to withstand a legal challenge. However, corporations are not 'persons' so we are not going to let that mistaken notion interfere with our community's right to assert local control of our elections."

She said there is "a growing national movement challenging the idea that corporations are 'persons' with constitutional rights." She added: "This is not just a legal abstraction. When a corporation successfully argues that its constitutional 'rights' are violated, it means that a law attempting to control their harmful conduct is overturned. Community rights are impossible if corporate rights are upheld."

Attorney Greg Allen, also the chairman of the Humboldt County Green Party, takes issue with the legality of the proposed law.

"Clearly, this ordinance has as its product the prohibition or restriction of speech," he said. "I believe the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written in very absolutist language: Congress shall make no law (infringing on free speech)."

Allen said he believes it's a mistake to limit the ability of the residents to speak out.

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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

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

View the full list of public endorsements!


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Pros and Cons of Measure T

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


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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)