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Court Nabs Anti-Union ABC for “Posing as a Voter” in Order to Sponsor Ballot Measure

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In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Associated Builders and Contractors attempted to sponsor a ballot initiative while posing as a voter and that “compelling disclosure violates the First Amendment right to anonymous speech.” The decision in Chula Vista Citizens vs. Norris could set a new legal precedent, that “corporations and organizations can’t sponsor ballot measures, only people can.”

Some background on the case comes from the court’s opinion:

This case arises from a political battle concerning labor unions. Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition (“Chula Vista Citizens”), an unincorporated association, and Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego, Inc., an incorporated association of construction-related businesses (“the Associations”), sought to place an initiative on the Chula Vista municipal ballot. As described by the title of the initiative, the proposed measure “mandat[ed] that the City or Redevelopment Agency not fund or contract for public works projects where there [was] a requirement to use only union employees.” The City of Chula Vista requires that initiative proponents be electors (“the elector requirement”), which excludes non-natural persons from serving as official proponents. Faced with this obstacle, Chula Vista Citizens asked two of its members, Lori Kneebone and Larry Breitfelder, to serve as proponents in place of the Associations. They agreed…

Kneebone and Breitfelder made two attempts to qualify the initiative for the ballot. The first attempt (“First Petition”) began on August 28, 2008, with the filing of the notice of intent. Kneebone and Breitfelder later submitted 23,285 signatures to Norris after having complied with all the requirements except one: They had not included their names on the notice that appeared on the circulated petitions.

Instead, as Kneebone and Breitfelder later informed Norris, they printed the following statement at the end of each circulated petition: “Paid for by Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition, major funding by Associated Builders & Contractors PAC and Associated General Contractors PAC to promote fair competition.” On November 12, 2008, Norris rejected the First Petition for failure to include the proponents’ signatures on the notice accompanying the circulated petitions.

The Associations again asked Kneebone and Breitfelder to serve as proponents, which the pair again agreed to do.  The second attempt (“Second Petition”) began with the notice filing on March 13, 2009. It complied with all requirements—including the requirement that circulated petitions bear the proponents’ signatures—appeared on the June 8, 2010 municipal election ballot, and was approved by voters.

The office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris now has the option to ask a panel of 11 appeals court judges to reconsider the case or she can petition the Supreme Court.


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