Oaks Project Volunteers Victorious Against City Councils’ Lawsuit

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Court Rules Case Moot, 4 Initiatives In Effect

Volunteers with the Oaks Project, sponsor of five initiatives to prevent political kickbacks across the state, celebrated a victory in the courts after a three-judge appeals panel ruled that a case brought against the initiative by the City of Vista was moot and directed the trial court to dismiss the cityÕs lawsuit against the initiativesÕ proponent.

Politicians in three other cities Ð Pasadena, Claremont and Santa Monica Ð had also petitioned the court of appeals to invalidate similar initiatives overwhelmingly approved by voters in their respective cities in recent elections. The ruling ensures that the will of the voters remains in effect in four California cities and moves Prop W supporters in Vista one step closer to seeing the same.

“This is a victory for the average citizen and a setback for politicians ,” stated Susan Castagnetto, a Claremont Oaks Project volunteer organizer. “The legal roadblocks put up by the politicians are proof-positive that these measures are good medicine for city hall. The voters deserve to have what they voted for put into effect.”

The anti-conflict of interest initiatives were part of all-volunteer multi-city campaigns, the first of their kind in California history. The initiatives put into practice the strongest campaign reform provisions in the state. The cost of the legal action against them will in large part be paid by Vista tax dollars.

“Politicians in these cities tried to thwart the will of voters in their own towns behind closed doors and sent the bill to Vista taxpayers,” stated Vista Prop W volunteer Brad Drake. “If these same politicians attempt to undermine the will of their constituents again, they will be forced to do it at home and in view of local voters.”

Grassroots Campaign for Real Reform

The signature gathering and get-out-the vote efforts for the propositions were done by volunteers, unprecedented in this age of multi-million dollar paid signature gathering operations and equally high-priced campaigns run by public relations firms. In stunning contrast, Oaks Project volunteers handed out tens of thousands of flyers, made thousands of phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors to educate voters and get out the vote.

Oaks Project volunteers turned in over 65,000 signatures from city voters in support of “The Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000” in June. The measure prohibits 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 contracts, land deals and tax breaks.

In Irvine, where the Oaks Project missed qualifying the initiative for the ballot by just 81 signatures, volunteers will meet with a city sub-committee this month to discuss adopting the measure as a city ordinance. An Irvine councilmember was caught taking kickbacks just weeks after the initiative failed to qualify for the ballot.

Oaks volunteers in San Francisco, the only city which has not attempted to challenge the measure in court, met with members of the City’s Ethics Commission to discuss facilitating enforcement of the initiative.

In addition to enforcing the initiatives where they passed, the Oaks Project will also be introducing a bill on initiative reform this year. The bill would 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 CaliforniaÕs 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.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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