Volunteers Win in Fight for Clean Government

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Campaigns Demonstrate Statewide Desire for Campaign Reform

Citizens celebrated a victory for clean government at the polls Tuesday when voters adopted the state’s strongest anti-kickback protections in Claremont (Prop A garnered 55% of the vote) and Pasadena (Prop B received 60%). The all-volunteer campaigns were part of an unprecedented multi-city effort by the Oaks Project to enact conflict of interest reforms in cities across California. Voters in Santa Monica, San Francisco and Vista embraced similar reforms in November, 2000. 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 measures 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. The propositions prohibit any 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.

“These victories prove that ordinary citizens can take on special interests and win,” stated Sue Castagnetto, a volunteer Oaks organizer. “Public officials in every city claimed that conflicts of interest weren’t a problem. But only the force of this law not faith in politicians – can assure me that my tax dollars won’t be spent in return for a payoff.”

Oaks Project volunteers turned in 18,000 signatures from Pasadena residents, and 4400 from Claremont residents, in support of “The Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000” in June. More than 40,000 additional signatures were submitted to place the conflict of interest measure on the ballot in San Francisco, Santa Monica and Vista. The signature gathering and get-out-the vote efforts for the propositions were done by volunteers, unprecedented in this age of paid signature gathering and high-priced campaigns run by public relations firms. In stark contrast, Prop A and B volunteers handed out flyers, made hundreds of phone calls and knocked on doors to educate voters and get out the vote.

Volunteers in Irvine came up 81 signatures short for qualifying for the November ballot. However, a week after missing the ballot, an Irvine councilman was caught taking kickbacks from city contractors and a land developer. Oaks volunteers have been invited to work with a city committee considering the adoption of a city ordinance modeled on the initiative.

In each city, nearly all city council members opposed this common sense reform, even though thousands of their constituents overwhelmingly supported it.

“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 and Pasadena residents join voters in three 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 the measure. 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 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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