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Monday, September 25, 2006

Who is Hart Williams?

As I noted earlier, last Friday's PBS/NOW video on this year's crop of tax-limiting, property-rights-defending initiatives credits Hart Williams and his blog Boregasm with figuring out that these initiatives all get some (or much) of their funding from a common source. As they describe it:
This week's show was inspired by a compelling blog series written by Hart Williams. Williams' research revealed some extraordinary truths about efforts to take the "local" out of local ballot initiatives and create them from afar.

Williams has written for a number of publications including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The Oregonian.
What you'll find at Boregasm is a very, very, very long series of articles where Hart reveals what he has learned about Howie Rich and a number of other people via Google.

Much of the excitement and energy driving Hart was his belief that Americans for Limited Government was conscientiously striving to keep all this a secret. As a result, after ALG hosted an obviously long-planned August conference where many of the state and national activists showed up and spoke openly about the state initiatives and what they were doing, the idea that it was all supposed to be a secret became less plausible.

The series itself gives off a bit of a cyberstalkery vibe. One of the things he does repeatedly is Google a particular activist until he finds their home address and then includes both their home address and a link to satellite imagery of that personal residence.

I've spent some time reading about Hart Williams, or at least what is available to know about him from the internet.

I started out doing this research with the uncharitable impulse of wondering what it would be like for Hart to be treated the way he treats others. I ended up finding him to be a terribly sad figure. He reminds me of the occasional political activist one meets who is extremely, extremely bright, capable of tremendous passion and engagement with politics, who longs for connection with others, and who has a hard time finding that connection.

Hart has made a living over the years writing pornography:

Back in the Silver Age (mid eighties), I wrote 32-produced screenplays and a bunch more that were bought and never produced. I watched patiently as filmmaker after filmmaker turned my pretty little scripts into sh-t.
In 1997, he produced his own adult movie, Moyst, which had additional production work in 2001 and which he started to market in 2003. (Here's an internet posting where he gives away a free download of some audio from the movie in an attempt to promote it.)

"Moyst" was given a very lukewarm review in 2003 by AVN (Adult Video News), in which reviewer Mark Kernes says that

It's not clear exactly what the objective of Moyst is. If it's to turn on the viewer, it's only marginally successful.
Only guessing, but that observation must be close to the kiss of death for movies in this genre.

Hart has said that making the movie

..was intellectually the most difficult thing I've ever done.
Luke Ford, the well-known chronicler of the adult movie industry, posted these segments from an interview with Hart:

Hart Williams fell into writing for sex magazines in the late '70s. "It was not so much that I wanted to be in it, as that I didn't mind doing it. I began writing audio-cassettes (we called it XXX radio) and wrote about 50 at 15-30 pages each.
Hart's experiences in the porn world seem to have been somewhat difficult on a personal level.

Porn star Brandy Alexandre was attacked by him, and responded:

Your statements that I am despised, repugnant are completely and totally false. [Ex-porn journalist] Hart Williams wrote stuff like that because he was angry that I dared point out that he's not the porn guru he liked people to believe.
Hart attended the 1998 World Porn Conference in order to market "Moyst" (he entered that year's cut in a contest at the conference) and also wrote a diary about what attending the conference was like. It appears to have been a personally painful experience, partly because of how he feels about the female actresses and how they did or did not treat him.

More [of the news report] when I recuperate -- and no, I AVOIDED the "Night of the Stars." I don't have $100 to spare, don't feel like scamming a press pass, and have no interest in paying to see people clothed that I used to be paid to see UNclothed.
The negative attitude toward his colleagues continues:

I found very rapidly that the porn people -- some of whom I have known nearly 20 years -- are still the same arrogant, power-trippy jerks they always were. The whole minuet of who greets whom, and how much acknow- ledgement to bestow is always finely calculated based on one's current level of Power in the Biz, and with whom one has been "seen" and myriad other qualifying factors.

Wisely, as it turns out, I have been keeping a low profile in my role as producer/director, preferring to let the film speak for itself.

And my "friends" of long ago evidently found me wanting in the correct Caste Systems.

But the thing that always sickened me about Hollywood (and, to be fair, New York and Washington, D.C.) is that insane lust of the hairless killer monkeys to "status" and pecking order. I am a western boy, and where I come from, we don't cotton to people putting on airs, least of all fuck film performers.

As we've gone over thoroughly, most can't really act, and are not necessarily role-models in the Fine Art of Copulation.
That's gotta hurt. The actresses come in for the most criticism:

By the final day, I was certain that my bullshit meter is going to have to go into the shop for recalibration. Why, to hear the "actors" [In quotes so as not to offend actual actors] they're all Clara Bartons bringing healing solace to a desperately ill society. One actress actually had the temerity to suggest that they were public health workers of a sort.

I don't know if the sexologists lapped this line of horse doogie up with gusto, but the porn stars sure as hell did. They went from trying to convince people that they were human beings on Thursday to being the Second Coming by Sunday.

Now, some of it not their fault. Being fawned and drooled over like some fine Cartier watch DOES tend to give one a swelled head, but this was beyond all proportion.
The actresses didn't spend any time with him:

I walked out thinking: "Geez, you've hobnobbed and had a swell time with the President of the ACLU, and some of the finest First Amendment Lawyers in the country. You've swapped stories, gossip and old times with your fellow print journalists. You've had a great time with internet buddies, with directors and producers and crew (few though they were, sadly), so why did your old friends the 'actors' make you feel like a leper?"
And he lets them have it:

One group of newer actresses sat multiply on chairs, on the stage or on each other, rather than sully their stardom with actual manual labor.

"Sunset Boulevard" all over again. A star exists to be served, never to serve.

And so the day began with some asshole swiping my camera. It really isn't worth stealing -- the photos were worth more than the camera, but realizing that I was at a porn convocation, I had little hope that it would be turned in: looting on sets is so de rigeur that I'm sure some starlet considered the camera her due.
Hart's complicated attitudes toward women, those in the porn industry and those not in it, come through in other comments as well.

Here he attributes a very unattractive mercenary character to his first wife:

I ended up at Hustler, which ended my first marriage. She didn't mind the $200 each script brought, but Hustler was too much…"
He shares more of his opinions about the female actresses he worked with here:

The average starlet was a high school dropout [like Sindee Coxx, Brandy Alexandre], or just barely made it. An inordinate number drove Chevrolets. The industry learned to pander to their fantasies by making them into "stars" for awards shows and conventions.
Porn star Linda Lovelace famously left the porn industry and wrote several books attacking it. Hart made up a term about that:

Lovelace became an archetype for what writer Hart Williams calls "Linda Syndrome" - porn stars who seek acceptance from "overground" society by disavowing their porn past. Hart also labels it "Conversion Syndrome" or "Paul On The Road To Damascus." Sufferers from Linda Syndrome include Angel Kelly and Samantha Fox.
He was also quite annoyed or provoked by a young female delegate to the 2000 Democratic Party nominating convention which he attended as a delegate from Oregon and wrote about under a pseudonym. He writes:

And so, on Thursday Night, with everyone approaching exhaustion, with the final speech underway, and the Important Monkeys of our Hairless Killer Ape delegation having noted our reconquest of the front row, and having plopped their pompous asses into said seats -- the better to be seen in TeeVee for (one, our token "youth" -- a rural boob stage-managed by her grasping mother, is neatly french-braided with red- white-and-blue pompoms in her hair -- don't laugh, Oprah had a crew doing a story on her for a day. She may be an airhead, but she is a TOKEN, and tokenism counts for a lot at this convention.)
From Hart's point-of-view, many things are conspiracies. Spies, conspiracies and connecting the dots figure in much of how he experiences the world.

In 2004, Hart ran for state assembly in Oregon, losing in the Democratic primary with less than 10% of the vote. During this race, he got into a hideously involved contre temps with his local Democratic party which resulted in his getting kicked out of the county party organization. He details all of this on his website. His exposure of the Democratic Party of Lane County, Oregon uses many of the same words and concepts that Hart brings to his writings about Howie Rich and Americans for Limited Government: shenanigans, secretive power structure, claims about illegal dealings and so on and so forth.

Hart feels that he was the object of a porn sting operation run by the federal government, as he describes here:

I have a fairly sophisticated program for tracking website hits, and what I've just seen didn't make any sense until I remembered that I've posted here and on ACME that I think a lot of the "Kiddie Porn" paranoia is a smokescreen for a more insidious attack on civil liberties.

(And it ain't the tracking program you THINK it is)

Somebody from the Government has been searching my website for: search="xxx free" "free pics" "porn free" "teens" "hard core" "head" "blow" @rec.arts.movies.erotica&child love @rec.arts.movies.erotica&hart williams

search="child porn"

And hits from several .gov servers. etcetera. You get the picture.

Now, I note a BIIIIG bust of a kiddie porn network made the news today, with 46 arrests in several countries. The interesting fact that caught my attention was that, while the investigation took place in ten or more states, only three arrests were made in the US.

But let me state for the record, in case there's ANY QUESTION about it:

I find the sort of mind that likes kiddie porn to be sick.

I find the concept of child pornography repulsive.

I would turn in ANYone I suspected of dabbling in it in a New York minute, and have called the FBI Internet Task Force in San Francisco about just such material in the past -- as their records ought to show.

Got that? Is that clear? Is that explicit enough Big Brother?

There's a nice piece about the property rights initiatives up on the USA Today website, Voters get a say on land rights, by Martin Kasindorf.

Here's how he treats the funding question:

The decision, Kelo v. New London, Conn., raised a public outcry, led by libertarians and conservatives who advocate limited government power. The spate of ballot proposals is being bankrolled largely by libertarian organizations controlled by New York City real estate investor Howie Rich. The groups, Americans for Limited Government and the Fund for Democracy, have donated $4 million to ballot drives in eight states.

"It's about one of the core freedoms that our country was built on," Rich says. "People work very hard to own a small business, a home or property. The government is there to protect the right to that property, not to take it away."
He sounds sincere--not like a monster. How thoroughly disappointing.
I was blind but now I see. I've been very patient with all this New York funding of initiatives, because I love it when voters get a shot.

But what I did not realize until this morning, through the power of the blogosphere is that Howie Rich is

leading people to believe their state governments are doing a poor job.
This cannot be tolerated. It must be exposed. And if we have to keep those initiatives off the ballot or else people will be led to believe their state government is doing a poor job, well, sometimes the end justifies the means.

The book on "shenanigans"

If you read BISC or Howie Rich Exposed or Sandlapper or my personal favorite, you will see the word "shenanigans" deployed over and over...and over...again.

So, I think to myself, do these good people not have access to a thesaurus? Did Hart learn nothing in his years of writing the Penthouse Forum letters?

In my public-minded way, I looked it up in a thesaurus so I could give them some style suggestions and now I get why they keep using the same word. There aren't any interesting alternatives:

Main Entry: shenanigans
Function: noun plural
Text: 1 playful, reckless behavior that is not intended to cause serious harm -- see MISCHIEF 1
2 wildly playful or mischievous behavior -- see HORSEPLAY
The PBS Friday night show NOW ran a segment last Friday evening called Taking the Initiative. From their website description:

The aim is to slash state spending, with the potential for deep cuts in health care, education, and other social services. But are these local initiatives really "home" grown? This week, NOW investigates how organizations associated with one wealthy New Yorker, Howard Rich, are secretly providing major funding for ballot measures.
The website (although apparently this was not mentioned during the show itself) credits blogger Hart Williams with bringing this story to their attention. The show's website includes an interview with Hart, as well. He lives in Oregon and he doesn't like out-of-state money. He also does not like the direct voter initiative process in general. As he says:

There is a reason that we make laws in a deliberative body. The initiative process is meant to be an "in case of fire, break glass." There are always unintended consequences, and, as we've seen several times in the past, what you think you're voting for and what you're actually voting for turn out to be two different things. When people outspend the local opposition five to one and more, I can't see that as anything other than hard-core used-car sales techniques, used to bully the voters into taking up questions that legislatures are more properly constituted to address.
This is a bit confusing, since it mixes up two issues--whether voters are capable of good discernment at the ballot box (he thinks not, it seems) mixed in with the concern that it is somehow "bullying" voters when an initiative qualifies for the ballot. This is a distinctly minority position but, hey, it's a free country.

The PBS NOW site also includes a link to Hart's blog Boregasm, where the reader can find a 17-part series devoted to uncovering what Hart sees as a malicious conspiracy. In an interesting metaphor, Hart refers to his work there as tearing apart and uprooting a rose bush. Given the strong revulsion and contempt he puts on display...shouldn't he have said something like uprooting a thorn bush? Hart has a long history in the hardcore pornography biz, which outside of the precincts of the kooky left, makes him a less-than-fully-ideal spokesperson for the anti-initiative crowd.

It's early Monday and most bloggers don't write much over the weekend but I'm still surprised at the shortage of blogger commentary about the PBS show. As a fan of initiatives, I'd like to see more attention paid to them.

Two friends who watched the show say that it was so obviously unbalanced as to elicit sympathy for its target. One of the interviewees was Trevis Butcher, the Montana sponsor of three initiatives that are said to have been financed by Howie Rich. Trevis comes off in the show as a sincere, politically active Montana citizen. The interviewer comes off as someone who would like to get a temporary UN permit to waterboard Trevis.

Two lefty bloggers who have brief tidbits to say about the show include Stars Over Washington and The Left Coaster.

The most interesting blog entry on the show comes from Norman Leahy out of Virginia. I'll quote just enough to make you want to click through to the full post:

Sounded like familiar territory. Back in the day, the press and public broadcasting in particular, took a rather morbid interest in uncovering the Dark Designs of my old employer, U.S. Term Limits. The press was forever interested in unmasking who gave us money, why they gave us money and what our real (evil, dark and dastardly) goals might be. Were they as interested in the lobbyists, labor unions, assorted interest groups and politicians who spent great sums opposing us? Not really. They were good folks. And sources.

Anyway, the patterns in the story were familiar for good reason: the man pulling the levers behind the Montana and other efforts, it seems, is none other than my old boss, Howie Rich.
The most serious-minded reflection on Howie Rich and the PBS show was penned by Kristina Wilfore, the executive director of the Ballot Institute Strategy Center, who colorfully asserts that there is a Monster Stomping The States.

Do you think it's wise for someone whose organization is funded by George Soros to carry on in this fashion?

Sandlapper at the DailyKos also weighs in. It is painful to read this young man's strained attempts to write what I think he intends as sparkling political repartee.

I found an endearing little libertarian website which for all its goofiness may have captured the line on the PBS piece:

It's PBS, what did you expect? PBS is ubber liberal leaning, and libertarians are the few people can hold a debate with them on intellectual issues, so they need to label them "radical".

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The initiative campaign in Nevada to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of non-medical marijuana took a dramatic and well-justified action last week:

On Tuesday, between 40 and 50 supporters of the Marijuana Policy Project's initiative campaign in Nevada attended a county commission meeting in Las Vegas to protest the commission's nonbinding resolution opposing MPP's initiative. MPP Campaign Manager Neal Levine made a statement before the commission, explaining, "According to Nevada Revised Statutes 281.554, government officials and employees are prohibited from expending public funds, time, or resources to oppose or support a ballot question. This rule applies to the Clark County Commission."

Despite the clear legal precedent — a Nevada Supreme Court decision in 2002 and a Nevada attorney general's opinion in 2004 — that prevents public officials from weighing in on ballot questions, the commission's lawyer opined that the resolution debate could proceed. The commission then voted unanimously to oppose MPP's initiative, which would tax and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol.

Following the commission's vote, the campaign filed a formal complaint with the state's attorney general, asking him to prosecute the county commissioners and other public officials — like Clark County Sheriff Bill Young, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Detective Todd Raybuck, and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Lieutenant Stan Olsen — who have spent taxpayer money to oppose MPP's initiative, which will be on the November 7 ballot.

The possibility of sending the county commissioners, sheriffs, and police to jail for illegally campaigning while on the public dime has generated a tremendous amount of news coverage by diverse media outlets, including the ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC television stations in Las Vegas; the NBC and CBS television stations in Reno; and the Associated Press, the Las Vegas Sun, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
You can follow ongoing developments at the Nevada marijuana campaign's blog. The Associated Press article covering the story is available here.

The Nevada marijuana initiative is not by any means the only initiative that has been opposed by public officials on the public dime. TABOR-style initiatives are particularly prone to this sort of interference, although usually in a more subterranean way that requires use of open records laws to dig out.

By the way, the Nevada marijuana campaign is funded and supported by out-of-state money (George Soros via the Marijuana Policy Project out of D.C.) but since it is now common knowledge that Soros is an active player, covering his involvement isn't nearly as interesting as finding out about Howie Rich. I predict that in two years, Howie Rich will also elicit yawns.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

From the Portland Press Herald in Maine, TABOR's school impacts debated.

Good, balanced article. I haven't figured out why government school advocates always say that TABOR will cause deep cuts in school budgets. TABOR doesn't cause any cuts at all.

One reason to click through on this article is to enjoy the comments at the end. Maybe because of the town meeting style of democracy still prevalent in Maine, they seem to have an abundance of thoughtful things to say.

Back in the day when I collected signatures on petitions, I often mentioned that qualifying an initiative for the ballot was a good way to guarantee a lively public debate on the issue. This article and the ensuing comments bear that out.

One comment from Brian of Portland says:

I'm not sure if I'm voting for TABOR or not, but not because I think TABOR is too extreme. I think it's not extreme ENOUGH. I WANT useless programs to be cut. If something happens, and my income decreases, something has to give (maybe I get rid of cable or stop going out to eat). I would have to make a budget cut. Same thing for government. It's time to tighten the belt. I'm not sure TABOR goes far enough!
No wonder progs/unions think it makes excellent sense to spend large sums keeping TABOR-style bills off ballots.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The worst petition drive of 2006?

My current candidate for the title of "Worst Petition Drive of 2006" is the Michigan Civil Rights Amendment drive which was plagued by many accounts of petitioning fraud, but is still going to be on the ballot. (Eat your heart out, Howie Rich.)
Coming soon...the Exposer of Foul Deeds, the Sunshine of the West, the Vorpal Sword, the hypomanic, the "published writer of thirty years" (Thirty Years, Folks!! Thirty Years!!), the Legend In His Own's Hart Williams. Ta da!
I picked this up from the blog at Oregon's Rainy Day Amendment website.

(Want to make an Oregon Kossack sputter with indignation? Say the words "Rainy Day Amendment".)

It's a transcript of a radio commentary by Paul Jacob.

"Every time an initiative comes up that some group doesn't like -- especially the group of established politicians in the state capital -- you hear the complaint: THIS IS BEING FUNDED FROM OUT OF STATE!

It's a common complaint. As a person who helps out with petitions for initiatives in many states, I find this a bit odd.

As a supporter of citizen political involvement, I see my work as "doing good," helping citizens effectively have their say against establishment voices, at those expert in drowning out dissent.

What do I get? Called an 'outside influence.' Oh, horrors.

What strikes me as funniest about such complaints is how hypocritical most are. They are often made by newspapers owned by out-of-state corporations. They are made by politicians who accept support from anywhere. They are made by groups that have accepted money from out of state for other initiatives.

Hypocrisy isn't shocking. But the implied isolationism is. Each state is supposed to be cordoned off? Nonsense. The United States was conceived as one vast free trade zone, and the free trade of political ideas is as important as any other kind of trade.

Further, the very independence of our federal republic is owed, in part, to certain French interests who helped fund our revolution.

Sure, it's nice to know who supports every initiative. Or every politician. But 'outside influence' is almost meaningless today, since no state is an island ... well, except Hawaii.
In Oregon, as we learn at the fun blog SPEND Oregon:

"S.I. Newhouse's contributions top $28 million"

"Groups controlled by New York media magnate and owner of The Oregononian S.I. Newhouse contributed another $17 million to oppose Oregon ballot measure campaigns in July and August, bringing his total donations to $28 million, according to new campaign finance research." The Register Guard, Sept. 12, 2006.
This parody is an ironic reference to just the kind of thing Paul Jacob is talking about. S.I. Newhouse is an out-of-state newspaper magnate. He doesn't have to live with the policies and laws passed in Oregon. He owns the biggest paper in Oregon, which is inevitably, routinely and predictably opposed to any conservative initiative ever proposed in the state but, of course, without having to file campaign finance dislcoures because "The Oregonian" is a newspaper.

Do newspapers like "The Oregonian"--that is, the biggest newspaper in a given state--feel competitive with people who run for office or propose ballot initiatives. "We're supposed to be the ones deciding the best public policy in this state! That's our job! You don't get to do it!"

One of the noteworthy initiatives that made it to the ballot this November is the attempt in South Dakota to overturn their state legislature's almost total ban on abortion.

That petition drive was funded and run by out-of-state people. But I bet you knew that already, right? Because that fact has been exposed here, there and everywhere, right?

Oh, never mind.
Two blogs to read every day:

The Center for Competitive Politics and Richard Winger's Ballot Access News.

As I read "Ballot Access News", I'm reminded that when partisan sources like Dan Richardson (see below) use loaded words to celebrate ballot access barriers, so often the underlying reality is something like relying on the postal service (off with their heads!) and disclosing a petition drive donor, the American Cancer Society, instead of the name of the petition management company paid for by the donor. Illegal! Off with their heads!
Dan Richardson at New West ("a network of online communities devoted to the culture, economy, politics, environment and overall atmosphere of the Rocky Mountain West") has an informative article up about key events in this year's petition/initiative wars:

Courts Striking Property Rights Initiatives.

Man, what a month.

It was only a week or two ago that the machine of libertarian political initiatives was rolling swiftly around the West. We recently wrote about the “Kelo-plus” property rights initiatives funded by a New York real estate developer and longtime Libertarian Party activist, Howard Rich. Rich and his allies have pushed those and also parallel initiatives to limit government spending and institute term limits in states from Oregon to Arizona.

But the hired help has fouled up the works. Courts in Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Michigan and Missouri have disqualified part or entire initiatives that otherwise would have gone to voters. The decisions come in reaction to complaints about petition-circulators’ problematic, or illegal, signature-gathering tactics."
"Problematic" is a word that would usually be interpreted to mean something quite a bit more exciting than "didn't get enough signatures", right?

In Michigan, the partisan election review board (more on this next week) declared that the submitted signatures were insufficient for the proposed Michigan spending cap initiative.

In Missouri, the problem for the TABOR measure was, at the end of the day, insufficient signatures with a brief overheated detour on failing to number all the petition sheets before submitting them. That's problematic but not, I think, in the juicy sense Dan Richardson is trying to convey. The Missouri Kelo fix was rejected for reasons we'll be exploring later--justice is "problematic" in the Missouri court system.

My impression is that Dan Richardson hasn't followed the endless court cases from decades of signature challenges, and the litigation opportunities available to initiative backers, but we shall see as the months wear on.

"Looking over from Oregon, Rich’s West-wide ballot initiatives seem less an innovation than a higher-octane version of similar, previous ideas — albeit, a uniquely ambitious multi-pronged effort that has simultaneously tried to change the political landscape while flying under the radar. No, there is nothing new under the sun, just a lot more of it. What the recent court decisions striking down a number of these initiatives suggest is this: Watch for judges to strike down additional proposed ballot measures, citing fraudulent, deceptive or improper signature-gathering.
That's intriquing, but I can't make out whether Dan Richardson expects this to happen in 2006--it's getting late for that and I don't think there are any other signature challenges outstanding, but I could be wrong--or whether he's making a prediction about how things will go down in future years.

So, Howie Rich isn’t the only rich guy willing to write checks for political initiatives. (Ironically, Rich and company’s money-shuffling secrecy — fund a campaign here, have it send money to another group there — has gained them much more publicity than any of the out-in-the-open wealthy donors opposed to the initiatives.)
To a certain extent, that's true. On the other hand, part of the uproar is because people don't recognize the names of the newer national groups funding these ballot initiatives. When the National Education Association sends around large sums of money to pay for or defeat ballot measures, that doesn't get anyone excited because we all know about the NEA and expect them to behave that way. When it's a newer group we may never have heard of, it can sound more provocative and thrilling to hear that they're dropping big bucks into initiatives.

Watch for union activists with wide smiles with each new court decision; and libertarian activists smiling on election day.
Interesting. If I read this right, it means that Richardson thinks that when these measures are on the ballot, they're likely to pass. Does that mean that the aggressive attempts to keep so many of these measures off the ballot was an anti-democratic move?

I'll regularly be covering the story as it unfolds about allegations of signature-gathering irregularities.

And I'll also be covering the quite fascinating behind-the-scenes story of how the hard left decided to fight direct democracy this year, the key players and donors in this move, and the tactics they have rolled out in state after state. This part of the story is likely to come out in courtroom testimony down the line, at which point you can say you read it here first.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I'm an unabashed fan of citizen initiatives and the referendum process--collecting signatures on petitions to put issues on the ballot where voters make the ultimate decision.

Fewer than 25 states, most of them in the west, allow citizens the right of direct legislation through the intiative process. My friends who live in states that don't have initiative tend to not get what citizen initiative is all about. The media tends to cover citizen initiatives as a very poor cousin to candidate elections. This overlooking of citizen initiative even extends into the blogosphere. You can read all the major blogs that cover politics from morn 'til night with nary a reference to this fascinating part of the political landscape.

That may be changing, though, as we shall see.

Meanwhile, here's a bit of an academic introduction to the subject of citizen initiatives through looking at the major books you can find on this subject.

We can start with John Matsusaka's For the Many or the Few:

Drawing upon a century of evidence, Matsusaka argues against the popular belief that initiative measures are influenced by wealthy special interest groups that neglect the majority view. Examining demographic, political, and opinion data, he demonstrates how the initiative process brings about systematic changes in tax and expenditure policies of state and local governments that are generally supported by the citizens. He concludes that, by and large, direct democracy in the form of the initiative process works for the benefit of the many rather than the few.

David Broder couldn't disagree more, as in his 2003 book Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money:

Now available in 24 states and the District of Columbia, the voter initiative process has been used to abolish affirmative action, expand casino gambling and deny educational and health benefits to the families of illegal immigrants. It has forced yes-or-no votes on issues as diverse as nude dancing and term limits, and, according to Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post and syndicated
columnist Broder (Changing of the Guard), it threatens to subvert the American form of representative government by allowing millionaires and special interests to rewrite state laws. In this well-argued and often chilling study, Broder scrutinizes the initiative process and delves into what one critic calls a "multimillion-dollar cottage industry" populated by paid signature gatherers, pollsters and public-relations firms. He finds democracy run amok: three wealthy men changed the drug laws of five states; billionaire Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen threw cash into a campaign to publicly finance a stadium for the Seattle Seahawks, a team he owned. The public, in turn, was stunned by initiatives and counterinitiatives on which anti-abortion, anti-hunting and pro-casino gambling forces, among many others, spent a quarter of a billion dollars in the 1998 election cycle alone. The centerpiece of the book is a balanced but tough-minded analysis of Proposition 226, the so-called "paycheck protection initiative" defeated in California after a viciously fought battle in 1998. Broder dissects the sloganeering of both sides to confirm a lobbyist's cynical assessment of the campaign as "a lotta little lies fighting one big lie." As tensions rise between direct democracy and representative government in America, this book gives a provocative critique of the initiative process as a panacea for democracy's ills. (Publishers Weekly)
That cute little quote that "three wealthy men changed the drug laws of five states" just makes me smile. Did they go into the statute books, white-out the existing legislation and write in their preferred version? No! They're wealthy, so they paid someone else to do that. Nothing about any voters, though.

Elisabeth Gerber's Stealing The Initiative is so much less frightened by voters and people with deep pockets and agendas:

Do small but wealthy interest groups influence referendums, ballot initiatives, and other forms of direct legislation at the expense of the broader public interest? Many observers argue that they do, often lamenting that direct legislation has, paradoxically, been captured by the very same wealthy interests whose power it was designed to curb. Elisabeth Gerber, however, challenges that argument. In this first systematic study of how money and interest group power actually affect direct legislation, she reveals that big spending does not necessarily mean big influence.
I haven't read the book but I'm guessing that what she uncovers is that the rich folk can dump all the money they want into initiatives, and the voters feel perfectly free to give those rich people and their expensive ad campaigns the back of their hands. (Speaking of which, the initiative campaign to authorize stem cell research in Missouri this year has already spent $12,000,000 and raised $16,000,000, the great majority of that from one wealthy individual.)

There's also The Populist Paradox, a collection of essays from a variety of perspectives:

Direct democracy is alive and growing in the form of statewide ballot initiatives. Currently, twenty-four states allow individuals and groups to propose laws for direct voter consideration and tens of millions of dollars flow into the initiative industrial complex each election cycle. This book assesses the health of the initiative process through the insights of the leading initiative scholars, top journalists, and important political consultants from across the country. The book provides a critical and balanced look into a political mechanism that is having a profound influence on American politics.
Did I say that little attention is paid to this subject? Yes, and that's borne out by the fact that the best-selling of the above books is below 500,000 on Amazon.

When emotions become overwrought during actual elections, it's good to know that there are some scholarly presentations about the issue to calm down the discourse.