Almost three quarters of Massachusetts employers believe that supermarkets have the right to prohibit political candidates from collecting signatures on store properties, according to a new Associated Industries of Massachusetts survey.
The issue was raised last month in a case before the state Supreme Judicial Court. A candidate for governor’s council sued Roche Brothers supermarkets in 2012 claiming he was prohibited from gathering signatures near a Roche market in Westwood. AIM joined other business organizations in supporting the market chain before the SJC since the case could have significant implications for the many commercial property owners who belong to the association.
Seventy-one percent of employers who responded to the AIM survey believe that the market should control use of its private property. Twenty-nine percent said candidates have a right to collect signatures there.
Supporters of the market generally took the line that "property owners should have control over their own property." Opponents held that "democracies need diversity of ideas and candidates."
The majority offered many more comments than the minority, often pointing to customer annoyance or intimidation as a concern; one AIM member noted that "the person in front of the store is not usually the candidate." Another noted the real-life complexity of the issue, supporting the rights of property owners in principle by adding that "they would be foolish" to ban all candidates, and "even more foolish to allow some and not others."
The SJC ruled in 1983 that candidates may not be barred from gathering signatures at shopping malls, even if the owner does not want them there. The plaintiff in the current case is asking the court to extend the protection to include places such as supermarkets and some commercial buildings.
AIM and the New England Legal Foundation argued in a legal brief that expanding the right to collect signatures is not warranted and would take away the rights of property owners to decide who should solicit signatures on their property.
“The Roche Brothers supermarket’s standing invitation to the public is to shop there, and the entrance area is to be used for the utilitarian purposes of entering and exiting the store when shopping, and not for non-commercial purposes. This area, in extent and configuration, is not comparable to the common areas found in many large shopping malls, notably those where the public is regularly encouraged to gather in large numbers, socialize, linger, etc.,” AIM noted in its brief.
The court's decision is pending.