Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: Referendum 71


Campaign rulings in line with U.S. Supreme Court thinking

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Campaign-finance rulings by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week are good news for proponents of disclosure, bad news for those concerned about the influence of big money in elections.

Both are, however, in line with recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court has been supportive of campaign disclosure  – most recently in a Washington state case. Gay-rights opponents sought to keep secret the names of those who signed petitions for Referendum 71, a ballot measure that would have overturned domestic partnerships. But the high court said the state law requiring disclosure was constitutional.
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Federal court ruling on donors hurts early voters

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the case that keeps on giving – if you are a deep-pocketed donor looking to swing an election.

Citizens United was the January decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down crucial federal limits on corporate campaign spending. In part, it overturned a key provision of the McCain-Feingold ban on corporate and union “issue ads” in the days immediately preceding an election.

Now the ruling has reached its tentacles to Washington to strangle a similar state provision aimed at limiting the ability of big money to evade accountability for late hits.

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A partial victory for disclosure in the R-71 case

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

One legal skirmish has yet to be fought, but Washington won the major battle over its Public Records Act on Thursday.

With a crushing 8-1 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is no sweeping constitutional right to sign petitions in anonymity. The decision doesn’t force the release of the signatures that put Referendum 71 one the ballot last November – that’s the unfought skirmish – but it repudiates a claim that could have sealed all petitions on all issues, in Washington and everywhere else citizens enjoy the right to initiative and referendum.

This lawsuit was brought by opponents of last year’s “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law, who launched a petition drive to reverse the measure at the polls. They have asked the courts to prevent the Secretary of State’s Office from releasing the identities of Washingtonians who signed the petition, arguing that disclosure would put the signers at risk of harassment from gay-rights advocates.

It didn’t help that a few gay-rights advocates actually did threaten identified signers with “uncomfortable conversations,” nor that others reportedly threatened the initiative’s sponsors with physical harm.

But the stakes in the lawsuit were far bigger than R-71. It challenged the constitutionality of any disclosure on the grounds that petition signers had a First Amendment right to anonymous political expression.
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How the justices broke on the R-71 decision

People who take a “Rah, rah, our team won!” approach to Supreme Court decisions may overlook some important things about Thursday’s ruling about public disclosure and Referendum 71.

Attorney General Rob McKenna, who defended Washington’s Public Records Act, won a battle he shouldn’t have had to fight.

The people who collected signatures to put R-71 on the November ballot had asked U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle to prevent the state’s release of their petitions. Settle granted the injunction on astonishingly broad grounds, holding that they were likely to succeed in arguing that the First Amendment could require that any petition – not just theirs – be sealed upon request.

That conclusion seemed absurd, but the high court took the claim seriously enough to review it. McKenna wound up having to play defense in a game with very high stakes.

Thursday’s ruling was a matter of dodging an asteroid few people had seen coming. As far as R-71 – by itself – is concerned, the fight remains to be fought in a trial court. It will turn on whether the petitioners can produce believable evidence that they were genuinely threatened by gay-rights supporters.
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R-71 case reaches far beyond Washington’s borders

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Most people discussing the Referendum 71 lawsuit obsess over whether Washington State can or should release the identities of citizens who signed the petitions to repeal last year’s “everything but marriage” gay rights law.

But as Wednesday’s arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court made clear, the campaign to put R-71 on the ballot is only a tiny part of what’s at stake here.

The arguments pitted public disclosure opponent James Bopp Jr. against state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who was defending Washington’s Public Records Act. If Bopp ultimately prevails, the rollback of disclosure would only begin with R-71.

He and the groups he represents claim that the release of signatures is inherently a violation of the signers’ First Amendment right to anonymous political speech. So if five of the nine justices buy into the full reach of his arguments, government agencies will be constitutionally forbidden from telling the public who signed initiatives and referendums. Disclosure would be barred for any initiative or referendum, on any issue, in any state, city or other jurisdiction.

Most of the furor over this case has focused on the petitioners’ fears of personal harassment from gay-rights advocates, several of whom idiotically triggered the whole legal battle by threatening signers with “uncomfortable conversations” and the campaign sponsors with outright harm.

But McKenna, defending the Public Records Act, put his finger on the core issue: the public scrutiny necessary to ensure government integrity.
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Open government under attack in R-71 case

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Voters long ago settled the debate over Referendum 71, the law. Now the nation’s highest court will decide Referendum 71, the test case.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the question of whether disclosing the names of people who signed petitions to qualify R-71 for the ballot is a violation of their political speech rights.

On one side is Washington’s Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is arguing for disclosure and for whom the case could make or break his expected bid for governor.

On the other side is a formidable foe, James Bopp Jr., an Indiana lawyer on a mission to dismantle the country’s campaign-finance laws who can spot an opportunity to further his cause half a country away.

May McKenna and Washington prevail. The case – the first time the Supreme Court has weighed a state’s public disclosure laws – is a frontal assault on open government in Washington and many other states.

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Don’t bank on ever seeing those R-71 petitions

I’m guessing Washingtonians (and citizens of other states, for that matter) will never again be able to learn the identities of people who sign initiative and referendum petitions. Across the board. Liberal and conservative petitions. Anywhere, U.S.A.

Washington’s fairly recent practice of releasing petition information has been driven by the Attorney General’s Office’s view that it’s a matter of open government and open public records law. Our editorial board agrees with that view.

But those are state laws. State laws get trumped, trounced and trampled when the U.S. Supreme Court decides they conflict with the Constitution. The court’s decision

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Pastor Fuiten responds to our R-71 editorial

Pastor Fruiten, one of the most prominent spokesmen for conservative Christians in this state, today offered this post-mortem on Referendum 71’s passage. The analysis was prompted, in part, by our editorial last week saying that R-71 supporters didn’t so much win the battle as R-71 opponents lost it.

The News Tribute ran an editorial which summarized the failure of the R-71 campaign: “R-71 critics got lost in their echo chamber “.

The Tribune observed that the electoral decision was not made so much on the facts of the situation, but “the bigger factor in the election was R-71 opponents’ failure to mount anything resembling a viable campaign.”

The omission was two-fold:

First – The R-71 campaign failed to recognize and address the “undecided voters.”

Second – A related omission, according to The Tribune, was that “supporters of traditional marriage couched their pitch in conservative Christian ideology and then spent the campaign talking only amongst themselves. R-71 might have failed had its critics offered persuadable voters practical arguments that didn’t depend on religious doctrine.”

Obviously there were substantive issues that motivated most voters but I do think The Tribune was substantially correct in their view of the campaign. From my viewpoint, the outcome would have been difficult under the best of circumstances. But our loss was made certain by three failures on our part:
We failed in our message.
We failed in our methods.
We failed in our money.
Furthermore, I still have to wonder if God was in the effort.

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