(CN) – Corporations do not have the right to propose ballot measures, a federal judge ruled, saying the initiative process should belong to people, not entities.
“The state constitution makes clear that this initiative power belongs to people,” U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez wrote. “Neither corporations nor unincorporated associations are mentioned.”
Benitez also ruled that official proponents of ballot measures do not have the right to anonymity as signatures accumulate.
Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition joined with the Associated Builders & Contractors Inc. and two San Diegans to propose an ultimately unsuccessful city ballot initiative.
Though the initiative later passed when the two citizens, residents of the Chula Vista neighborhood, proposed it again on their own, the groups filed a federal complaint that claimed city election laws prevent corporations from acting as official proponents in violation of the First Amendment.
“They argue that the act of proposing an initiative is also core political speech and that corporations and associations are banned from speaking in that way,” Benitez wrote. “But the acts of ballot initiation are qualitatively different than acts of engaging in the First Amendment dialogue of circulation or advocation.”
Treating corporations like people when it comes to proposing ballot initiatives is a slippery slope that could undermine the interests of voters, he added.
“Permitting a corporation or association to be a ballot initiative proponent could lead to local laws being proposed by foreigners unready to contribute to the city or bear the responsibility of citizenship,” the March 22 decision states. “Worse, corporations with assets, operations, or shareholders located outside the city, state, or country might propose initiatives adversely affecting the welfare of citizens of Chula Vista, in order to gain a business advantage elsewhere.”
“Even harmless or well meant initiatives, could drown out the legislative ideas of the city’s citizens,” Benitez wrote.
The judge further ruled that initiative proponents do not enjoy the freedom of anonymous speech.
“The First Amendment right to speak anonymously is not absolute.” he wrote.
“No decision cited by the parties or found by this court has recognized a First Amendment right to anonymously propose a ballot measure or, having recognized such a right weighed a state’s competing interests in requiring the public disclosure of the proponent’s identity.”