Response to David Broder’s: Dangerous Initiatives: A Snake in the Grass Roots, April 27, 2000
David Broder’s “Dangerous Initiatives: A Snake in the Grassroots” implies his disdain for state initiatives and the budding national initiative process movement, dubbed Philadelphia II. Broder has concluded that if a national initiative process were established 1) money, 2) whimsical political urges and the 3) complexity of law making would subject Americans to “a system without government.”
- Money. Over the last century we accepted the definition of corporations as people and political expenditures as free speech (Buckley v Valeo 1976). Consequently, money will continue buying power and planting perceptions in every venue of life. Hopefully, the nation will build on the majority opinion expressed below from the Nixon v. Shrink Missouri PAC (Supreme Court 1/24/2000) and soon take a few more steps toward controlling today’s excessive campaign expenditures:
“To the extent that large contributions are given to secure a political quid pro quo from current and potential office holders, the integrity of our system of representative democracy is undermined….
“Of almost equal concern as the danger of actual quid pro quo arrangements is the impact of the appearance of corruption stemming from public awareness of the opportunities for abuse inherent in a regime of large individual financial contributions…
“Congress could legitimately conclude that the avoidance of the appearance of improper influence ‘is also critical … if confidence in the system of representative Government is not to be eroded to a disastrous extent.’ ”
Such Court decisions will help Philadelphia II’s proposed National Direct Democracy Initiative process restore some integrity to campaigning, since its Section M proposes:
“It is the intent of this law that only persons are entitled to contribute funds or property in support of, or in opposition to, an initiative. Contributions from corporations, industry groups, labor unions, political action committees (PACs), and associations are specifically prohibited.” (http://peopleslobby.tripod.com/dirdeminit.htm)
Laws, however, are not a cure-all. Money will always find a means to influence laws, parties, representatives, perceptions — and initiatives. Where does money not influence our lives? The initiative process, however, is designed for “We the people..,” which means it offers itself for the moneyed as well as for the blue-jeaned activists.
In 1972 California People’s Lobby with $9,000 and about 50 dedicated volunteers qualified the Clean Environment Initiative, which then served as a precursor to the nuclear moratorium movement. In 1974 it led the triumvirate of Common Cause and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown to gain a 70% vote for the Political Reform Act, which enacted the nation’s toughest campaign reform laws and established California’s Fair Political Practices Commission. In 1976, urged on by Ralph Nader, it spearheaded the 16 states Western Bloc Nuclear Moratorium campaign. The Western Bloc campaign is the closest this nation has come to a national initiative campaign. Although over the next half dozen years all the initiatives lost to much better-financed corporate campaigns, Americans learned about nuclear power so that after 1978 no new nuclear construction license permits were issued through October 1999. In 1977 Peoples Lobby assembled the 1977 Senate Judiciary Hearings on its proposed National Initiative process. Those substantial political impacts were achieved using initiative tools under the leadership of an ex-used car dealer and his wife and volunteers who ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and boiled potatoes.
If real or perceived influence-buying money were a reason to do away with the initiative process, then we should have axed an astronomical percentage of our lawmakers long ago. The way one controls money, connections, power – all those sometimes-corrupting influences – is the same way democracy grows in emerging nations. You grow it by giving people empowering tools. You give the people more and better teachers, schools, journalists, newspapers, and electoral opportunities and responsibilities. The result is not just more jobs, health and wealth but a smarter populace whose constantly improving critical and analytical thinking skills insures the nation’s continued economic growth and good health.
- Whimsical American voters? In the 24 states that have the initiative process thousands of initiatives failed to get enough voters’ signatures to even make it to the ballot. From 1898-1998 those states saw 1,902 make it onto the ballot. Of those, the people chose to pass 787 of them, or 41%. In debating, learning and voting on those issues, citizens expressed their constitutionally guaranteed right to peacefully endorse or change facets of their governance. The arduous initiative process and electoral debate guaranteed that their decisions were not whimsical. In the process, involved Americans learned not only about their government but how they, the people, can change it with their own hands — just as their forefathers did. And they can do it without throwing stuff in the streets or blowing up buildings.
- Too complex? Probably 500,000 pages of legislation pass every session of Congress. They are loop holed and pork barreled. Congressional representatives are so busy going to meetings, hearings, lobbyists’ parties, addressing constituents petty and real concerns that they spend a lot less time studying the laws they pass and their effects than does the average initiative voter. It’s a good bet average voters have as much or more common sense to dissect complexities as many of those being paid to represent them.
“At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, no voice was raised in support of direct democracy,” Broder has claimed. Wait a minute! Has Mr. Broder missed the point of that unconventional meeting? Weren’t we then stuck under a government that was powerful, moneyed, whimsically taxing, and whose laws, to our simple forefathers, were complex? Our forefathers didn’t have any legal authority to call a meeting and set up a government, did they? Nonetheless, they unconventionally met and pulled together some primary principles that defined who they, and thank God, we, would be. In the course of spirited discussions, they fashioned principles around words such as: “We the people empower those to direct our affairs. We the people can dispose of those who wrongly employ that power. Therefore, we the people can do anything in between employing and dethroning. Furthermore, we the people don’t believe that because you wear fine clothes, have money, power, influence and say you are smarter than we are that you can run our lives better than we can ourselves.”
Mr. Broder, our forefathers used their initiative based on these first principles to directly democratize our Constitution that stands today. By doing so they supported and lived “direct democracy.” They supported it so deeply they put their lives on the line to pass it to us. As Founding Father Madison said, “The people” have the power to “just do it!” We, “The people,” retain that power today – with or without spiffy athletic shoes.
Our People’s Lobby logo restates what has kept America’s democracy great, “Final responsibility rests with the people. Therefore, never is final authority delegated.” Therefore one shouldn’t weaken the initiative process but consider well-reasoned approaches to spreading such an empowering tool to all Americans. Americans like building a better mousetrap. Give them the tools and additional responsibilities and they tinker and improve things. By plugging an educated and technologically attuned peoples’ direct democracy tool into our representative powered political grid, we strengthen our nation’s grass roots.
Dwayne Hunn, Phd., worked as a volunteer for People’s Lobby and is presently a board member. Philadelphia II’s Direct Democracy Initiative can be reached at www.peopleslobby.net
From: Dwayne Hunn