Citizens Incorporated

US Constitution with People replaced by CorporationsLast week’s eNews announced a forum on the upcoming vote on the Barrio Logan community plan (Props B & C) at our April 24th meeting. This was the result of an accommodation to San Diegans for Prosperity, one of the groups that brought the issue to the June ballot, who told us that they could not make the originally planned March 27th meeting but were available on April 24th.

So, fast forward about three hours after eNews hit everyone’s email.  We received the following email from Cynthia Ybarra of San Diegans for Prosperity, “I apologize for the delay. We are currently not interested in participating. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

San Diego Democrats for Equality has not yet taken a stand on Props B & C.  I anticipate that it will be taken up at the forum that will still be held at the April 24th meeting so I will not be using this opportunity to take a position myself.  But, this appears to be part of a pattern with San Diegans for Prosperity toward community groups across the City trying to inform voters about the ramification of this community plan.  It would appear that San Diegans for Prosperity has made the decision that its energies are better spent with TV/mail advertising that does not have to deal with those pesky voters asking questions.

There is a reason why opponents of Prop B & C would take this tack.

The Environmental Health Coalition, the primary proponent of the City Council approved plan, earlier this year took the opponents to court for what they contended were lies knowingly told by the plan’s opponents through their paid signature gatherers to qualify the challenge for the ballot.  (I say EHC is primary because while Council President Gloria instructed the City Attorney to defend the Council’s decision and join with the Environmental Health Coalition to defeat the referendum in court, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, after meeting with the Ship Repair Association, ordered his staff to remain neutral.)

In the recently handed down decision by the judge in the case, the Court found that the opponents had indeed knowingly misled voters into signing the referendum petition.  Even so, the paid signature gatherers were being paid as independent contractors rather than employees so the Court had “very limited power” to remove the referendum from the ballot.

In other words, they lied.  But they spent a great deal of money spreading the lies and, as the Supreme Court has told us, money is speech.  So the Court can’t interfere with their free speech rights by removing the referendum from the ballot.

With this kind of ruling, why wouldn’t San Diegans for Prosperity decide to focus on purchasing media advertising and mass mailings that can’t be verified rather than subjecting their positions to critical questioning? Why compete for a citizen’s vote when they can just buy it?

Clearly, the problem is much larger than one judge – or one community plan.  The corporate members of the Supreme Court ruled in Citizen’s United, that money is speech.  By extension, those with the most money have the biggest right to free speech.  And, with their recent ruling that outlawed limits on aggregate contributions, they even provided a standard.  As long as there’s no quid pro quo, it’s A-OK. As long as the opponents don’t offer cash, free trips or free cancer screenings in return for your vote they can say pretty much whatever they want.  Unless the supporters of the Barrio Logan community plan can come up with as much money, the opponents get to say it louder – No questions asked…

If we are ever to return to a democratic society where all sides present their views and voters pick what they find to be the most reasonable/workable, Citizens United must be overturned.  Until that happens, we need to shine a light on causes that hide from public scrutiny and instead try to purchase public policy in the shadows.  Ask yourself, what are they hiding/what are they afraid of?  Then, vote accordingly.

David Warmoth

President, San Diego Democrats for Equality