All-Volunteer Campaign a Sign of Citizens’ Power, Desire for Conflict of Interest Protections
Citizens celebrated a victory for clean government at the polls Tuesday with the passage of Prop B with 60% of the vote, instituting in Pasadena the state’s strongest anti-kickback protections. The Prop B 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. 55% of Claremont voters approved an identical measure, Prop A, in TuesdayÃƒÂ•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 won’t. Prop B 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 B’s victory is a model for citizen volunteers to take on special interests and win,” stated Paul Monsour, a volunteer Oaks organizer. “Prop B’s passage is a triumph for the power of ordinary, well-organized people. From now on, I know that my tax dollars will be spent in my interest and not with the promise of a payoff to the politician who awarded the deal.”
The signature gathering and campaign efforts for Prop B were all- volunteer, unprecedented in this age of multi-million dollar paid signature gathering operations and equally high-priced campaigns. While the supporters of Propositions A and C raised over $150,000 since January 1 to wage their campaigns, Prop B proponents have spent less than $5,000 in that same time. Prop B’s grassroots campaign focused on direct voter contact with volunteers going door-to-door and phoning Pasadena residents to educate the public and get out the vote.
Oaks Project volunteers turned in nearly 18,000 signatures from Pasadena residents in support of “The Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000” last June. More than 40,000 additional signatures were submitted to place identical conflict-of-interest measures on the San Francisco, Santa Monica, Vista, and Claremont 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 and taxpayers suffered through six years of Chuck Quackenbush‘s abuses with no conflict of interest protections,” stated Oaks organizer Paul Herzog. “Pasadena residents join voters in four other California cities that won’t wait any longer. It’s time Sacramento politicians act 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 B. 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.