Read on for a quick history of the cutting-edge issues the Oaks Project has worked on.
1997: Tweedledumb & Tweedledumber
The Oaks campaigned to place a “None Of The Above” (NOTA) option on the ballot, which would allow voters to choose None Of The Above instead of being forced to pick between bad candidates, or not vote at all. A win for NOTA would trigger a new election, with new candidates (indicating that the first choices were unacceptable) and raise the caliber of all candidates for office. Oaks volunteers spoke to thousands of voters, gathered over 50,000 signatures, and raised $60,000 at house parties across the state educating voters about NOTA.
1998: A Moment of Clairvoyance
Well before energy issues dominated the news, Oaks Project volunteers campaigned to stop a multi-billion dollar bailout of the utility companies, written into the 1996 deregulation law. Oaks volunteers gathered over 100,000 signatures to qualify a statewide initiative, Prop. 9, for the ballot. They spoke to nearly 1,000,000 voters, and reached millions more, over the course of the campaign. While Prop. 9 may not have won at the polls, it garnered over 1 million votes thanks to the Oaks’ amazing grassroots effort.
1999: Just Who Are “Californians for More Sunshine” Anyway?
The utility companies spent $40 million on misleading ads to defeat Prop. 9, and used a phony name — “Californians Against Higher Taxes & Higher Utility Rates” — to disguise themselves. The Oaks responded by sponsoring SB 1220, a bill to end such deceptive advertising. It required all initiative ads to disclose their real sponsors, ending the industry practice of hiding behind names like “Californians for Better Things”. Oaks volunteers turned Prop. 9 into a battle for the integrity of the initiative process itself. To promote SB 1220, Oaks gathered over 6,300 hand-written letters and postcards to legislators, organized press events and published over a dozen opinion pieces in major papers across California. Their efforts pushed the bill through the state Senate with a two-thirds vote. (The bill stalled in the Assembly.)
Oaks Join the Pros and Take On Sacramento
While working on SB 1220, Oaks also teamed up with their parent organization — the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights — to throw their citizen power behind three successful pro-consumer bills. The bills: Instituted a Lifeline auto insurance program for low-income drivers; Gave Californians the right to sue their HMO when they fail to provide medically necessary services; and, Attempted to limit insurers’ ability to low-ball insurance claims (a reform later overturned by an industry-sponsored referendum).
2000-2001: Debut of the Volunteer Qualified Initiative — VQI
Oaks volunteers gathered nearly 70,000 signatures to place an anti-conflict of interest initiative on the ballot, in a multi-city, all-volunteer effort unheard of in recent California history. Volunteers ran true grassroots campaigns for these initiatives: going door-to-door, speaking to voters in front of supermarkets, and debating local politicians. Their efforts debuted the VQI — Volunteer Qualified Initiative — an all-volunteer citizen model to redeem an initiative process bought and sold by special interests.
Cutting edge reform
The Oaks volunteers passed the strongest conflict of interest law in the nation in five California cities — San Francisco, Santa Monica, Vista, Pasadena and Claremont. More than 275,000 voters across the state went to the polls in support of this common-sense reform. Its success demonstrates the public’s desire to make politicians accountable to the voters, not the special interests that line their pockets.
2001: Oak Victories Over Corporate Greed
With the absence of consumer protection in the energy market, Californians saw the nightmare of deregulation come back to haunt ratepayers and the utilities. Thanks to the Oaks’ efforts to educate voters about energy legislation, more than 11,000 postcards and letters were written to California legislators. They all advocated ratepayer and taxpayer protections throughout the state’s manufactured energy crisis.
Watchdogs Take Notice — Bailout Blocked
During the last few weeks of the legislative session, the “War Room” was inaugurated in a Sacramento hotel as home base for dozens of Oaks volunteers. Christened the “Bailout Watchdogs” for their role in fighting a bailout of Southern California Edison, the volunteers were on hand for three weeks to lobby, and scrutinize the moves of, every legislator in the Capitol. The Oaks thwarted a multi-million dollar energy and utility lobby, halting a bailout of Southern California Edison and scoring a decisive victory for California ratepayers and taxpayers when the Senate refused to even vote on a bailout proposal before adjourning for the year.