Day 2 of Global forum highlights issues in the U.S. initiative process
By Kyle Maichle
SAN FRANCISCO, California: The second day of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy continued on August 1, 2010. The focus was on how the media, money, and lawsuits affect the initiative process in the United States.
The first panel of the day featured attorneys who discussed about the legal system affecting the initiative process. James Harrison, a California-based lawyer, said that the big issue affecting the initiative process is lawyers trying to draft ballot questions in secret. Harrison told that drafting questions in secret are a way for Attorneys to gain a better summary and title from their respective Attorney’s General. Ross Day, who represents Common Sense Oregon, talked about how federal courts across the U.S. handle initiative legislation. The attorney said that federal courts nationwide have been split on upholding legislation that is considered by experts "anti-initiative." One example was licensing of petition companies. Day also criticized the proposed ‘’Ohio Ballot Integrity Act sponsored by State Rep. Jennifer Garrison (D-OH) that would require petition companies to be licensed. Day argued that the initiative process could be affected in other states if they take Oregon's lead on licensing petition companies.
Ned Crosby of the Minnesota-based Jefferson Center talked to forum attendees about how citizen assemblies could be a new way to expand direct democracy. Crosby talked about how citizen assemblies are popular in Canada. In addition, Crosby described Oregon’s system of initiative review panels as a model for expanding citizen assemblies.
The second panel of the day debated about the role of money from special interest groups. Panelists including Roy Ulrich of Common Cause-California and Allison Hawyard from the Center for Competitive Politics debated if greater campaign finance disclosure would curb special interest spending. One of two ideas brought up was to introduce more disclosure during the drafting and signature gathering processes. The other idea that was mentioned was to have the sponsor of television or radio advertisements mentioned through a voice-over message in the ad. The idea came after panelists discussed the role of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) spending millions of dollars to influence energy-related ballot measures in California. PG&E’s involvement have been a key indicator if measures have passed or failed
During the lunch session, Ballotpedia’s Bailey Ludlam discussed the Tuesday Count and the Ballot Measure Scorecard. Ludlam discussed how these two programs help readers keep abreast of new measures being qualified or struck down in court. These efforts have been mentioned as a best practice for data collection in relation to direct democracy.
Later in the afternoon panel, the issue of how the media portrays the initiative process was discussed. John Fund, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, felt that media bias against citizen initiative comes from journalists in the Eastern U.S. who are not accustomed to the process. Fund argued that the initiative process is dominated mostly by the Midwestern and Western states. Also, other members of the panel discussed if the decreasing number of investigative and political journalists would affect the perception of initiatives. Patrick McGuigan of CapitolBeatOK said that only over 300 journalists in the U.S. cover news relating to state government. When asked about non-profit organizations could solve the problem by employing their own investigative journalists, the response differed from panel members. John Fund said that credibility would be gained only: “if the product is accurate and durable.” Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake.com, argued that the decline of investigative journalism comes from think tanks packaging stories to the media combined with fewer journalists writing the stories on tight deadlines.
Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) also spoke to forum attendees. The Senator advocated during his speech to have the initiative process expanded to the national level. When detailing his plan, Gravel felt that 65 percent of Americans would have to approve the process through a national referendum and not on an act of Congress. The Senator also argued that corporations and labor unions should be banned from influencing any national initiative campaign.
Day 2 ended with a reception at the St. Francis Yacht Club near the Golden Gate Bridge. The reception was hosted by Swiss Consulate General Julius Anderegg.
A full downloadable schedule of the July 30-August 4 forum can be found here. (dead link) Day 3 continues on August 2, 2010 with panel discussions on global initiative rights and social networking.