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SLC Council poised to outflank state law on citizen petitions

Published June 6, 2012 6:02 pm

Politics • Grass-roots group volunteers seek to halt political spending by corporations, unions.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Move to Amend is down but not out in Salt Lake City.

The grass-roots organization that is focused on eliminating corporate spending on state and federal elections got some bad news at Tuesday's City Council meeting: Although Move to Amend volunteers had gathered more than the 7,141 signatures necessary to get on the November ballot in Salt Lake City, their petition is in the wrong form to put before voters, according to an opinion from City Attorney Ed Rutan and the council's attorney Neil Lindberg.

Under Utah law, a citizen initiative must constitute legislation that would produce law, according to Rutan and Lindberg.

Nonetheless, the council appears poised to adopt a new ordinance that would allow Move to Amend's resolution, and others like it, on the Salt Lake City ballot.

Move to Amend wants Salt Lake City voters to endorse or reject these statements:

1) Only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights.

2) Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.

The group is working in about 90 cities to persuade states and Congress to ratify a constitutional amendment to overturn the January 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. That ruling opened the door for unlimited corporate and union spending on political campaigns.

Jesse Fruhwirth, a spokesman for Move to Amend, said Wednesday that despite the city attorney's opinion, the group is "confident we will be on the ballot in November.

"We've been working with the city since November. We're disappointed in the city attorney's office coming to this conclusion this late in the game," Fruhwirth said. "But we're happy the City Council agrees that this is an important issue that should be on the ballot."

Council Chairman Soren Simonsen said the mix-up occurred because Utah's law governing initiative petitions is unlike statutes in other states. The misunderstanding, he said, should not be placed with either the city attorney's office or the city recorder's office, which approved the petition.

"I wouldn't characterize this as a miscommunication," he said. "The research was not done. They weren't asking the questions the attorney was asking."

The faux pas aside, Simonsen said the council wants Salt Lake City residents to have a voice in the matter.

"We recognize the initiative of the citizens was a valid petition," he said. "We will have an opportunity to consider putting it on the ballot."

That, Simonsen said, likely will come in July or August after the council concludes its annual budget discussions.

csmart@sltrib.com