Obstacles to Asserting Rights

by: Posted on: August 08, 2013

Editor’s Note: When citizens get together to elevate their rights above corporations’—there is a backlash. What this backlash looks like can be unpredictable. Spokane offers a case study. There, citizens are elevating their right to clean elections, constitutional rights in the workplace, neighborhood decision-making power, and the legal rights of the Spokane River and Aquifer above corporations’ rights.

Simply put, not only have corporations been able to influence HOW we vote via their wealth and so-called people “rights,” but now they are attempting to decide WHAT we get to vote on.”

Blocking Public Participation

At the end of June, the corporate powerbrokers of Spokane sued Envision Spokane (Community Bill of Rights) and Spokane Move to Amend the Constitution (Voter Bill of Rights) in an attempt to knock the two duly qualified citizen initiatives from the November ballot.

In response to this interference with the right to initiative, Envision Spokane sued the corporate plaintiffs under Washington’s SLAPP law – Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

What has happened here is that the corporate interests are attempting to use the courts, not to settle a legal manner, but to interfere with a public process, that is the peoples right to vote on two qualified initiatives. The SLAPP law is about protecting that right of the people.

Simply put, not only have corporations been able to influence HOW we vote via their wealth and so-called people “rights,” but now they are attempting to decide WHAT we get to vote on.

If the judge agrees with us she would be saying that the corporate plaintiffs were interfering with the right of the people to the political process. If the judgment goes the other way, then the legal fight continues – over the original lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs – with a decision on whether the initiatives will be on the ballot coming sometime at the end of August.


The city council is once again considering adding “advisory propositions” to the ballot preceding the vote on the Community Bill of Rights and the Voter Bill of Rights.

The questions insinuate that in order to implement either measure, Spokanites’ taxes will go up and their services cut.

In 2011 Councilman Snyder said placing such propositions on the ballot would be a “terrible misuse of the council’s power.

Councilwoman Waldref said in 2011, “It seems really inappropriate for us [city council] to put anything on the ballot that would affect the outcome of a fair and open election, whether it be a citizen initiative, bond measure, or campaign by an individual.”

In addition to the advisory propositions, the City Council is considering changing the initiative process by adding an additional legal review by the city hearing examiner. This non-binding opinion would be issued at the front end of the petitioning process, and would be a review of the legal validity of proposed initiatives. The municipal code already allows for the city council to authorize the city attorney to create such an opinion.

If this addition is made initiative proponents may have to challenge two legal reviews from city government, all before the citizens of Spokane would be allowed to weigh in on the proposals via the petitioning process

This change is merely an additional layer of city hall interference in the initiative process.

The end result is that the only initiatives that will see the light of day are the ones rubber-stamped by city hall.

Opponents of Initiatives in Violation of Campaign Disclosure Laws

July 17, 2013 – Organizations opposing Envision Spokane’s Community Bill of Rights initiative and Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution’s Fair and Clean Elections initiative have created an organization called the “Alliance for a Competitive Economy.”

Supporters for the Alliance are the very same corporate interests responsible for pulling in $500,000 – nearly all of it from outside corporate lobbyist organizations – to oppose the Community Bill of Rights in 2009 and 2011.

An official complaint has been filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) by Envision Spokane on the following grounds:

  • The Alliance for a Competitive Economy has failed to register as a political action committee.
  • The Alliance for a Competitive Economy has failed to disclose who is funding the group and how it’s spending its money.
  • The Alliance for a Competitive Economy has failed to disclose who founded the group.

The complaint was submitted to the PDC on Friday, July 12th.

The corporate fundraising against the Community Bill of Rights in 2009 and 2011 went mainly through three different political committees – Community Builders Trust, Jobs and Opportunity Benefiting Spokane, and Save Our Spokane.

Members of the Alliance for Competitive Economy are also plaintiffs in a pending legal challenge seeking to block the Community Bill of Rights and the Fair and Clean Elections ordinance from the November ballot. In 2011, the Community Bill of Rights received over 28,000 votes, a five hundred-vote swing from passage.

“It’s not surprising that the corporate powerbrokers in this community would ignore the rules,” says Kai Huschke, campaign manager for Envision Spokane. “They’ve owned this town for over 100 years and have no interest in allowing the people of this community more say on issues like their neighborhood, the river, or their workplace. They will use the courts and deep pockets to keep control, even if it’s not on the up and up.”

The Community Bill of Rights would empower neighborhood residents as decision-makers for certain major development proposals, provide greater legal protections for the Spokane River & aquifer, recognize constitutional rights for workers, and subordinate so-called “rights” claimed by corporations to community rights when they come into conflict.


Photo: “Spokane Falls” by Tracy Hunter


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