In states across the country Tuesday, primary elections named candidates for Congress, governorships and other important offices. But the most interesting, and perhaps significant, election did not involve an individual. Rather, it was about an idea.
In Northern California’s Humboldt County, voters decided by a 55-45 margin that corporations do not have the same rights — based on the supposed “personhood” of the combines — as citizens when it comes to participating in local political campaigns.
Until Tuesday in Humboldt County, corporations were able to claim citizenship rights, as they do elsewhere in the United States. In the context of electoral politics, corporations that were not headquartered in the county took advantage of the same rules that allowed individuals who are not residents to make campaign contributions in order to influence local campaigns.
But, with the passage of Measure T, an initiative referendum that was placed on the ballot by Humboldt County residents, voters have signaled that they want out-of-town corporations barred from meddling in local elections.
Measure T was backed by the county’s Green and Democratic parties, as well as labor unions and many elected officials in a region where politics are so progressive that the Greens — whose 2004 presidential candidate, David Cobb, is a resident of the county and a active promotor of the challenges to corporate power mounted by Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County and the national Liberty Tree Foundation — are a major force in local politics.
The “Yes on T” campaign was rooted in regard for the American experiment, from its slogan “Vote Yes for Local Control of Our Democracy,” to the references to Tuesday’s election as a modern-day “Boston Tea Party,” to the quote from Thomas Jefferson that was highlighted in election materials: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Just as Jefferson and his contemporaries were angered by dominance of the affairs of the American colonies by King George III and the British business combines that exploited the natural and human resources of what would become the United States — and wary of the machinations of those who would establish an American economic royalism — so Humboldt County residents were angered by the attempts of outside corporate interests to dominate local politics.