Prop J’s All-Volunteer Campaign a Sign of Citizens’ Power to Enact Strong Conflict of Interest Protections When Politicians Won’t Act
Prop J volunteers celebrated a victory at the polls Tuesday in a multi-city campaign, the first of its kind in California history. The Oaks Project, sponsors of the initiatives, cheered the overwhelming passage of the local campaign finance reform measure as a double victory: both for curbing the influence of special interest money in politics and for the power of volunteer-based organizing to accomplish the task when public officials will not act. Prop J’s passage demonstrates the desire of voters to enact strong protections against politicians trading votes for campaign contributions.
The signature gathering and get-out-the vote efforts for Prop J 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 stark and stunning contrast, Prop J volunteers handed out tens of thousands of flyers to educate voters and get out the vote.
“Prop J’s victory is a model for citizen volunteers taking on city hall and winning,” stated Julia Brashares, a volunteer Oaks organizer. “Prop J’s passage is a triumph for the power of a genuine, grassroots campaign comprised of ordinary, well-organized people. This victory demonstrates that we can put forward real reform that voters want but that the entrenched political establishment will not address.”
Oaks Project volunteers turned in nearly 15,000 signatures from San Francisco residents in support of “The Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000” in June. Prop J 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.
More than 40,000 additional signatures were submitted to place identical conflict-of-interest measures on the November 7th ballot in Santa Monica and Vista, and in Pasadena and Claremont for the March 2001 ballot. In Irvine, where signature gatherers came just 80 signatures short of qualifying an identical measure, Oaks volunteers are pushing the city council to adopt a city ordinance modeled on the initiative.
“Prop J will prevent a Quackenbush-type scandal from happening in San Francisco,” stated Oaks volunteer organizer Ben Gertner. “Taxpayers should not have to wait for corruption to be uncovered to pass conflict of interest protections. The election results show that an overwhelming number of San Franciscans agree.”
The Oaks Project volunteers will be considering their next step, looking at the possibility of a statewide version of Prop J. The Oaks Project will also consider reintroducing their initiative reform measure, SB 1220, which passed out of the State Senate in 1999. The new measure 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 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 last year and spearheaded the 1998 drive to lower utility rates for California ratepayers by co-sponsoring Proposition 9.