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Federal judge grants anti-soda-tax committee exemption from campaign disclosure law

on September 7, 2012

A U.S. district judge told city attorneys this morning that Richmond didn’t “stand a chance of a prosecution” in enforcing its campaign disclosure laws against an anti-soda-tax group.

The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes filed a lawsuit against the city to prevent it from enforcing a law that would require the group to devote one-third of any mailer’s campaign disclosure section to the words “major funding from out-of-city-contributors.”

Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled that the ordinance did not apply to the committee because of ambiguous language that uses the term “independent expenditures.” Independent expenditures concern committees supporting or opposing candidates.

But Randy Riddle, an attorney representing the city, said the City Council intended its ordinance to include committees like CCABT.

“When interpreting a law in California, the emphasis has to be on intent, intent, intent,” Riddle said.

The disclosure requirements amounted to an argument from the city, Breyer said.

“And you can’t require the other side to make your argument—that’s an infringement of their First Amendment rights,” Breyer said. “You’re saying, ‘Look, these people are foreigners. These people are from out of here. Why should we listen to them? They’re trying to influence our election.’”

Breyer said that since the election is two months away, he would grant the CCABT a temporary restraining order to suspend the law until Sept. 21.

The CCABT can now distribute mass mailings as they had before the ordinance was passed without risk of prosecution.

Chuck Finnie, a spokesperson from CCABT, called the specific campaign disclosure laws a “warning label” that the city is asking the CCABT to put on their mailings.

Breyer scheduled another hearing for Sept. 18, when Finnie said he expects the judge to go into First Amendment issues the city’s ordinance raises.


  1. Megan Roberts on September 8, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Note to CCABT and Boze/other candidates who will not disclose contributions from big soda: I believe the phrase is ‘By the people’ NOT ‘Buy the people’!

    • Don Gosney on September 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm

      Are you accusing Councilman Booze or any other candidate for office of illegally accepting contributions and failing to report them?

      If you have the evidence to back up that claim then it’s your responsibility to go to the Grand Jury, the FPPC, the District Attorney, the media and anyone else who will listen and demand that these scofflaws be put in jail.

      Otherwise–that is to say that if you don’t have the hard evidence necessary before making the kinds of claims made here–then perhaps you should withdraw this claim before one of the candidates or elected officials considers seeking legal representation to protect their reputation against libelous false accusations.

      And why do people like yourself think that everyone other than themselves can be bought for pocket change? If a person, business or labor union supports a candidate then people like yourself seem to think they’ve been bought and paid for and have sold their souls to the Devil. Yet when businesses, people or organizations support the candidates of your choice, then you see no conflict of interest? I’m not sure I understand the logic here.

  2. Felix Hunziker on September 8, 2012 at 8:20 am

    Constitutional smackdown and a win for the people of Richmond. What other flawed legislation has our City created and how much has it cost us?

  3. Don Gosney on September 9, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    We’re seeing all too often here in Richmond where a small group of activists want to curtail the rights of anyone but themselves.

    Businesses—you have no voice in the city you pay fees to.
    Unions—shut up and stay in the background.
    Organizations who have members that might not live in Richmond—silencio and go back to where you came from (unless you’re from Berkeley, Marin County, San Francisco or any other progressive community).
    Richmond Progressive Alliance—gracias por salvarnos y pasar el Kool-Aid.

    It appears as if their goal is to limit what any of these organizations can do unless what they do is part of a grass roots support system.

    These people who want to silence their opposition seem to be spending a lot of money but we rarely ever hear exactly where this money is coming from. We saw in the election two years ago that while they proudly proclaimed that they took no corporate dollars, they allowed the card clubs to almost completely finance the campaigns of their candidates—all as independent expenditures and without their knowledge, cooperation or complicity—yet they did nothing to stop these corporations from outside of Richmond to cease and desist.

    There seems to be little transparency coming from these people who want to silence those that disagree with them. What’s that all about?

  4. Chuck Finnie on September 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    This article appears to have caused some misunderstanding about our campaign’s legal challenge and US District Judge Charles Breyer’s initial ruling on the city of Richmond’s campaign mailer ordinance.

    First of all, the No on Measure N campaign fully discloses in every piece of mail it sends the true source of the mailer and the source of major funding for the mailer. This is accomplished conspicuously and in full accord with state law with a disclosure that reads, “PAID FOR BY THE COMMUNITY COALITION AGAINST BEVERAGE TAXES, WITH MAJOR FUNDING BY THE AMERICAN BEVERAGE ASSOCIATION STRATEGIC ADVOCACY FUND COMMITTEE AND SUPPORTED BY THOUSANDS OF RICHMOND RESIDENTS, LABOR AND BUSINESSES AGAINST UNFAIR TAXES.” And we will continue to do this, of course.

    Secondly, the legal challenge that is the subject of this story wasn’t an effort to avoid disclosure. It was a challenge to a Richmond campaign mailer ordinance that was being enforced in a manner that interfered with our ability to communicate with voters. As applied to us by the Richmond city attorney, the ordinance required one-fourth of the front panel of every mailer we send to carry a warning label stating that the piece is produced with “MAJOR FUNDING BY LARGE OUT-OF-CITY CONTRIBUTORS.” We pointed out two things in our legal challenge–both of which Judge Breyer agreed with.

    First, the ordinance itself, as written, doesn’t apply to our campaign because our campaign is not engaged in “independent expenditures,” which is the activity the ordinance was written to regulate. We were formed primarily to oppose Measure N, and that is the focus of all of our activity. We aren’t making outlays to affect any other contests.

    Secondly, and more signifcantly, Judge Breyer agreed that the label requirement itself is unconstitutional. Under the guise of a local disclosure ordinance, the city was attempting to require us to plaster the following words across the front of everything we deliver to Richmond voters: “MAJOR FUNDING BY LARGE OUT-OF-CITY CONTRIBUTORS.” Judge Breyer agreed that the requirement–a label containing those words and covering one-quarter of the front of each mailer–went far beyond “disclosure.” The city was forcing us to carry an argument against our own campaign. Judge Breyer pointed that, while it might be a perfectly valid argument to make in response to points raised by No on Measure N, the City Council couldn’t make our campaign slap it across the face of everything we send to voters in Richmond.

    –Chuck Finnie, spokesman of No on Measure N

    • Dave on September 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Be honest Chuck, do you really think we’re all a bunch of morons? Do you have an ounce of integrity in your body?

      “The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes”. “The American Beverage Association Strategic Advocacy Fund Committee”. Oh and yes, those thousands of Richmond residents who oppose higher taxes.

      We all know that you are bought and paid for by the soda companies. Who funds those fake advocacy groups you mentioned? “Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes”, I’m sure that’s some real grass-roots organizing there! No connection to or money from Coca Cola, PepsiCo or anyone else with vested profit motive! This is all about keeping unfair taxes off of poor people, because the soda corporations really care about the poor, right?

      You are corporate shill. You should be ashamed of yourself, but I am sure the paychecks you receive help ameliorate any load on your conscience.

      • DS on September 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm

        I disagree with a soda tax. So apparently that makes me a corporate shill. Nice logic.

        • Dave on September 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm

          Disagreeing is one thing. Pushing fake “advocacy groups” is quite another.

      • Felix Hunziker on September 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm

        Dave, how about sharing your real and full name so you can be held accountable for your partisan screed?

        The fact that beverage companies are funding much of the opposition matters exactly as much as the card clubs funding pro-RPA candidate mailers in the last election. Furthermore, several thousand Richmond residents and hundreds of businesses that have signed the petition opposing the tax so your claims about this not representing the community are utterly false.

        • Dave on September 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

          Held accountable to who? You and your other friends at the soda companies? Typical neocon, I’m guessing, who has to threaten whoever disagrees with you, right?

          Again, if you oppose a tax, that’s just fine. Don’t come here claiming groundswell support when the truth is that you are backed by huge money soda companies.

          And that nonsense about how they care about the poor… we all know that the poor consume more sodas and have generally less healthy diets than the folks in Atherton.

          You may think your cynical behavior is clever and that we don’t understand what you’re really up to, but you are wrong.

  5. Dave on September 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Fight back. Deface/destroy any billboards or other propaganda which the soda industry places in Richmond.

    This includes any groups mentioned by Chuck Finnie or the industry group “No on Measure N”

  6. Mike Meagher on September 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Chris Rock has a line that goes something like: If you’re getting paid minimum wage, it means your employer is saying ‘I’d pay you less, but it’s illegal.’

    These ALEC whores would sell smack to kids if it was legal (don’t believe me?-explain cigarettes!). All they seek is profit, and if it kills (and it often does), they don’t care. Pond scum’s pristine by comparison.

    • Felix Hunziker on September 12, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      Better lay off that pot Mike if you want to be taken seriously

  7. Mike Meagher on September 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Wow-looks like ALEC didn’t like me suggesting their link with the anti-soda tax cabal, and had my comment deleted. Somebody will probably get a nice bonus for informing.

    • Mike Meagher on September 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      And now it re-appears. Sweet.

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