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Measure T Facing Legal Challenge

Ryan Burns, Times-Standard
August 28, 2008

Get Involved Today!Two companies filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco Wednesday, challenging the constitutionality of Measure T, a county ordinance banning corporate election donations, an attorney said.
The lawsuit argues the ballot measure, passed by voters in 2006, violates the political free speech rights of corporations by banning their donations in local elections.

”The county's donation restriction runs the First Amendment through a shredder,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Damien Schiff. “The Constitution guarantees open and vibrant political debate, with all sides and all points of view allowed into the fray. 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.”

Under Measure T, if a corporation has any employees or shareholders living outside of the county, the business is banned from donating to campaigns relating to local ballot measures or candidates for local office, attorneys said.

The lawsuit was filed by Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys on behalf of Mercer-Fraser Co., an asphalt paving and heavy construction business based in Eureka, and O & M Industries, an Arcata-based manufacturer focused on steel fabrication and heat, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, who served as spokeswoman and campaign co-manager for the organization that authored Measure T, defended the ordinance and denied that it infringes on free speech.

”I don't understand why someone who owns a corporation needs to use that entity to express themselves,” Sopoci-Belknap said. “Measure T in no way infringes on their individual rights. If some people are trying to use their economic power to speak louder than others, that's the whole point (of Measure T).”

Evidently anticipating such a legal challenge, the authors of Measure T included language designed to preclude such actions based on the court-sanctioned notion of “corporate personhood,” which essentially grants corporations the same rights as individuals.

In contrast, Measure T -- also known as the “Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy” -- asserted that only natural persons possess civil and political rights whereas corporations, because they are creations of state law, should not be entitled to such rights.

Chris Crawford, who chaired the “No on Measure T” committee, called the ordinance “patently unfair on its face” and said it was really special interest advocacy cloaking itself in finance reform.

”Measure T said, 'This group can't contribute, but this group can,'” Crawford said. “It applied to businesses but not unions or nonprofits.”

O & M Industries estimates that roughly 75 percent of its employees reside in Humboldt County, while Mercer-Fraser Co. says roughly 98 percent of its workforce resides within county lines. Under Measure T guidelines, both companies are considered non-local.

”To me, it makes no difference. I don't care if none of them live in Humboldt County,” Crawford said. “But don't tell me that unions can contribute (to campaigns) and businesses can't.”

Crawford said the current legal challenge is on firm ground because the notion of corporate personhood is firmly entrenched in federal court law.

The complaint alleges Measure T violates the 1st Amendment right to free speech and the 14th Amendment right to equal protection.

Ryan Burns can be reached at
441-0563 or

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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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