Private Legislatures

UPDATE 2 4:30AM PDT: A Major Update, with brand new links, reporting and information that can be found nowhere else is up at HVS: Disneyland Democracy.

Good news of a sort, today — unless you happen to be one of those who make their living gathering petition signatures, or running petition campaigns for money in those twenty-plus states that allow ballot measures and initiatives.

Another “stealth” petition drive has, seemingly, bit the dust in California, according to the Los Angeles Times:

BREAKING NEWS: Electoral initiative backers give up
Plagued by a lack of money, supporters of a statewide initiative drive to change the way California’s 55 electoral votes are apportioned, first revealed here by Top of the Ticket in July, are pulling the plug on that effort.

In an exclusive report to appear on this website late tonight and in Friday’s print editions, The Times’ Dan Morain reports that the proposal to change the winner-take-all electoral vote allocation to one by congressional district is virtually dead with the resignation of key supporters, internal disputes and a lack of funds.

Some of you might recall that I spent half of the summerof 2006, and all of the fall doing my best to “out” the Howie Rich gang, who were slithering ballot measures into the election cycle in states from Maine to Washington State, Oregon and California. What was particularly galling in THAT series of reports was that the identity of the backers was deliberately being hidden, and when Mr. Rich was “outed,” there was still a vital question — unpursued, and all but unasked — as to whether HE himself wasn’t yet another “front” for the mysterious forces trying to privately legislate their hidden agenda.

This case eerily parallels that conundrum. The story goes on to say:

The initiative began in July with an air of mystery. Its text and paperwork were filed by a Republican law firm in Sacramento — Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk — but the actual identity of the backers was unknown.

Now, if the media holds true to its near-comatose capacity for asking good questions, a bunch of foofaraw will be burbled about the SPECIFICS of the proposition, and virtually NO followup will occur on the core issue:

How, in the hundred years of the initiative process, has it been flipped from a tool of the people to a tool of the millionaires? I’ll just save time and quote from my PBS “NOW” interview (22 September 06):

NOW: What’s your take on the ballot initiative process itself? They’re clearly controversial: many people love them for their ability to put the power of lawmaking directly into the hands of citizens, and many others hate them for the very same reason. Where do you come down?

[Hart] Williams: They were originally a necessary check on the power of a few powerful robber barons to block pieces of legislation that a clear majority of citizens considered necessary and proper. When initiatives are used that way, I think they’re a fine thing. But in the past decade or so, we’ve seen that flipped on its ear: the robber barons use it to block the legislature instead. The whole thing is upside down.

A year later, we still haven’t had any sort of dialogue on this increasingly professionalized “business” of private legislation for cranky zillionaires. Since I live in Oregon, with far and away the most “ballot measures” of any state, I can attest to what it’s like to be a petrie dish for Frankenstein legislation they’re readying for a wider rollout, as our 2004 “Measure 37” was the prototype for “takings” measures in several states in 2006. Indeed, the Oregon “chief petitioner” wrote many of them, according to reports.

Look: the specifics don’t matter nearly as much as the MECHANICS of this, and now the mystery “legislators” have opened their wallets to begin the NEXT phase, which will be operating under the radar between now and the fall 2008 general elections. Since so much ink is being spilled on the endless presidential debates, the endless campaign season, and the “game show” debates of “Who Wants To Be President?” perhaps now is the time to have that dialogue.

Here was what the LA Times found out initially (21 July 2007):

Who is behind the initiative? No one is saying, but tongues are wagging. Tom Hiltachk, a partner in the firm, Bell McAndrews & Hiltachk, filed the initiative with the attorney general’s office, and his is the only name on it. He’s an initiative specialist who has handled Republican causes and candidates, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The firm also has done work for the California Republican Party.

Hiltachk didn’t immediately return a phone call. But two initiative industry practitioners, speaking to Mathews on condition of anonymity, suspect the firm is prospecting for business — filing an initiative in hopes that it will attract the attention and money of Republicans.

Another potential beneficiary could be Schwarzenegger’s billionaire buddy Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, who recently abandoned the Republican party. He’s considering an independent campaign for the presidency.

Mathews reports the language of the initiative also specifically adds “independent candidate” to the California Election Code,

Isn’t it kind of scary that we STILL don’t know who was behind it? And, worse, isn’t it even scarier that, after this, nobody’s going to care? Here’s the tag from today’s LAT story:

“We want to to make sure this is not the Freddy Krueger of initiatives,” [Democratic consultant Chris] Lehane said today, “that comes back to life. We’ll continue to monitor it.”

Because, like the unholy golem that it is, the petition can be reanimated. And, as if in fulfillment of prophecy, Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly spectacularly misses the point, here. As does My DD, Upper Left and others.

They never “got it” last year, either. The breadth of this electoral forest would be clear to them, if only the trees weren’t in the way. Don’t these people “get” that the real danger isn’t the initiative? It’s the anonymous backers and stealth machinery behind the initiative petition.

Déjà vu.

Courage.

UPDATE 3:00 AM PDT
: Something smells funny in Denmark. Or California. The LA Times has just posted its promised story, which follows the strange particulars of a Missouri astroturf group, founded September 10. The SF Chronicle has been on this, too. SF Chron reporter Carla Marinucci writes:

(09-26) 17:38 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — Until this week, Missouri attorney Charles “Chep” Hurth III was best known for a headline-grabbing incident a decade ago in which he bit a young female law student on the butt in a bar.

Now Hurth, the city attorney for New Haven, Mo. (population 1,800), is the agent for a deep-pocketed group that donated $175,000 to fund a Republican-backed effort that would reshape the landscape of presidential politics in California.

The LA Times story says, in part:

Unable to raise sufficient money and angered over a lack of disclosure by its one large donor, veteran political law attorney Thomas Hiltachk, who drafted the measure, said he was resigning from the committee….

The campaign received only one sizable donation — $175,000. That is less than one-tenth of the $2 million typically needed to gather sufficient signatures to qualify a measure for the California ballot.

The donation arrived on Sept. 11, one day after Missouri attorney Charles A. Hurth III created a company called TIA Take Initiative America that served as the vehicle for the donation. But the individual donors to the organization were not known.

Hiltachk said he had demanded that “Take Initiative America fully disclose the source of its funds,” and said he was assured it would make such a disclosure soon.

“Nonetheless,” Hiltachk said, “I am deeply troubled by their failure to disclose prior to my demand and by their failure to disclose to me or to our committee that Take Initiative America had been formed just one day prior to making the contribution. . . .

“I am not willing to proceed under such circumstances,” Hiltachk said. “Therefore, I am resigning my role in this campaign.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

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Cross posted from “His Vorpal Sword

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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7 Responses to Private Legislatures

  1. Hart

    There’s has been a big push against this here — hopefully we’ve seen the last of it, but as you say it may still rear it’s ugly head before we know it.

  2. Wonky Muse says:

    Thanks for your informative post on this issue. There are some interesting things about organizer Thomas Hiltachk and the initiative’s biggest donor, Take Initiative America and its founder Charles A. Hurth III that I wrote about in The Blue Voice. LINK

    Mr. Williams Replies
    : Thanks for the link. I’ve read your blog posting, and it seems to me that you’d carry a lot more credibility with me, had you actually READ AND COMPREHENDED my post. Yours is *precisely* the “missing the forest for the trees” kind of story that everyone else is doing, and which I warned against.

    And THAT’s how these people continue to game us. They depend on your superficiality, and, sadly, here they weren’t disappointed.

  3. Darrell Prows says:

    Here’s the way that it’s supposed to work. The Utah legislature passed the most expansive school voucher bill in the country in spite of the fact that polls showed a very large majority doesn’t want it. The petitioning was all voluntary and the number of required signatures was far exceeded. The politiking on it is now hot and heavy with plenty of outside money on both sides but the anti voucher sentiment is still extremely strong. (Overstock.com and Sciafe, etc. have the pro side, and NEA has the anti side.)

  4. Darrell:

    Thanks for the heads up. There is a huge amount of cash available for vouchers, and the agenda is clear: they won’t be happy until “public education” has ceased to exist in America, and every tax dollar collected go into schools whose curricula they control. In the South, this “private school” system has been used to create a system MORE SEGREGATED than it was before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

    Google this: schools more segregated brown

    and see what you get. Not only is it MORE segregated, but it’s getting worse, and the “School Voucher” movement is aimed at making US pay for that segregation, by race, by ethnicity, by religion (e.g. Utah), and by alternate realities (ditto).

    see: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary
    of the Brown Decision

  5. Wonky Muse says:

    Mr. Williams, I just saw your response to my comment above. I DID read and comprehend what you wrote. I appreciated the important point you’re making, which is why I linked to your post and interview with NOW in my follow up post on The Blue Voice about the California Electoral Initiative and billionaire Paul Singer being revealed as the big money behind Take Initiative America.

    Superficial? I understand why you think that based on my first post alone, but I do see the forest for the trees. Anyway, thanks for letting me know what you think, although I really don’t care what credibility I have with you.

    Mr. Williams replies, Wonky Muse: I saw your follow up, and I thought it was magnificent. Yes, you DID get it, and I thank you for it. A tale of two postings in the Dickensian manner, I fear. Again, thank you for the kind words, and mild apologies for my not so kind words the first time. OK?

  6. Darrell Prows says:

    Hart: This is a revelation to me, but perhaps not to you. “Council for National Policy”. I know them now only because Cheney flew into town last night to speak to them, and it is all “no reporters allowed”. The Editor of The Deseret News newspaper is also presenting, and even he won’t disclose what he is saying, or to whom. Someone smuggled out a partial program for The Salt Lake Tribune and prominent among their subjects is vouchers. Romney was there selling himself but the daily blotter does not report any prostitution arrests. A reporter tried to speak to Phyllis Schlafley but she shunned him. More action scheduled to follow today.

  7. Darrell:

    I didn’t know about it, and MANY thanks for your heads’ up. Email me and I’ll give you the skinny a bit more privately. :-0