Transparency for Initiative Sponsors

Ballot initiative proponents must be registered California voters and must put their names on circulation petitions to be valid in the state, an 11-judge federal appeals court has said.

These requirements do not violate the First Amendment, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Friday in a challenge by the Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition.

The legal demand that an initiative sponsorship must be a registered voter thus excludes the potential for corporations, associations and non-profits sponsoring initiative petitions.  This caused the problem in Chula Vista.

“The challenged disclosure poses at the most a minimal burden on First Amendment rights,” said Judge Stephen Reinhardt, for the unanimous 11-judge panel.  “It simply requires that potential signatories be allowed to determine the name of an official proponent when they are deciding whether to grant him an official role in the legislative process,” he said.

The dispute centered on Proposition G, which would bar the city from entering into labor agreements on construction projects that required contractors to pay workers the prevailing wage.  The measure eventually made it to the ballot in 2010 on the second circulation of petitions to get the initiative before voters. It  was approved by voters.

But a dispute arose during the first petition drive.  The measure was sponsored by the Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition, the Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego and two individuals in 2009.  Under the city’s rules businesses, corporations and non-profit groups are excluded from being proponents, as does the California Elections Code.  Only a registered voter may sponsor an initiative and their name must appear on the petitions.

The groups challenged the requirement as a First Amendment violation after the county clerk in San Diego rejected petitions that did not include the names of the two individuals sponsoring Measure G.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez upheld both laws saying the “initiative power belongs to people,” and anonymity would run against the state’s interest in fair elections.

The three-judge appeals panel disagreed partially saying he should have blocked the proponent-disclosure requirement.  The full court took up the issue for an 11-judge review.

Case:  Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs v. Norris, No. 12-55726


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