All-Volunteer Campaign a Sign of CitizensÃƒÂ• Power, Desire for Campaign Reform
Citizens celebrated a victory for clean government at the polls Tuesday with the passage of Prop A with 55% of the vote, instituting in Claremont the state’s strongest anti-kickback protections. The Prop A campaign was part of an unprecedented multi-city effort by volunteers with the Oaks Project to enact conflict of interest reforms in cities across California. 60% of Pasadena voters approved an identical measure, Prop B, in Tuesday’s municipal election. The cities of Santa Monica, San Francisco and Vista embraced similar reforms this November. The sweeping success of these measures demonstrates the desire of voters statewide to reduce the influence of money in politics.
The Oaks Project cheered the overwhelming passage of the local conflict of interest measure as a double victory: both curbing the influence of special interest money on politicians and proving the power of citizens to enact critical reforms when public officials wonÃƒÂ•t. Prop A will prohibit a public official from accepting campaign contributions, future employment or gifts from those who have benefited as a result of the official’s actions. Examples of “benefits” include city contract awards, land deals and tax breaks.
“Prop A proves that ordinary citizens can take on special interests and win,” stated Sue Castagnetto, a volunteer Oaks organizer. “Claremont’s public officials claimed Prop A was unnecessary in our small town. But only Prop A can assure me that my tax dollars won’t be spent in return for a payoff. This ounce of prevention will restore public faith in ClaremontÃƒÂ•s government.”
The signature gathering and campaign efforts for Prop A were all- volunteer, unprecedented in this age of multi-million dollar paid signature gathering operations and equally high-priced campaigns. Prop A’s genuine grassroots campaign focused on direct voter contact with volunteers speaking to groups and phoning Claremont residents to educate the public and get out the vote.
Oaks Project volunteers turned in 4400 signatures from Claremont residents in support of “The Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000” in June. More than 55,000 additional signatures were submitted to place identical conflict-of-interest measures on the San Francisco, Santa Monica, Vista, and Pasadena ballots. In Irvine, where signature gatherers came just 80 signatures short of qualifying an identical measure, Oaks volunteers have been invited to work with a city committee considering the adoption of a city ordinance modeled on the initiative.
“Corruption scandals make headlines on a weekly basis. We suffered through six years of Chuck Quackenbush‘s abuses with no conflict of interest protections,” stated Oaks organizer Carmen Balber. “Claremont residents join voters in four other California cities that won’t wait any longer. It’s time Sacramento politicians hear the public’s concerns and model a statewide bill on these local reforms.”
The Oaks Project volunteers will be considering their next step, looking at the possibility of a statewide version of Prop A. The Oaks Project will also work on a statewide bill to require disclosure of financial sponsors of initiative ads as well as provide recognition in voter guides for those campaigns that are Volunteer Qualified Initiatives, or VQI.
The Oaks Project
The non-profit, non-partisan Oaks Project was founded in 1997 by consumer advocates Ralph Nader and Harvey Rosenfield to train citizens to participate more effectively in CaliforniaÃƒÂ•s democracy. To become an Oak, volunteers attend monthly training in practical political skills and agree to spend 10-15 hours per month putting those skills to work on legislative and initiative campaigns to create a more democratic political system. Oaks volunteers also agree to raise $500 per year, and collect 1000 signatures on all Volunteer Qualified Initiatives (VQI). The Oaks Project played a decisive role in passing HMO patient protections in the California legislature in 1999 and spearheaded the 1998 drive to lower utility rates for California ratepayers by co-sponsoring Proposition 9.