Archive for the ‘Citizen Initiatives’ Category

Hey! How about those Oregon papers! Check out the lead for this story:

The most sweeping initiative on Oregon’s November ballot — a measure to cap state spending — is bankrolled by a New York real estate investor who has poured millions of dollars into similar government-limiting measures in 12 states this year, an analysis by The Oregonian shows.

Yes, the Oregonian has traced the money to spending-cap initiatives to Howard Rich. The article profiles Rich and notes that the connections have been made before, including by bloggers:

Many news outlets and political commentators have noted that Americans for Limited Government or the Fund for Democracy, based at Rich’s office in Manhattan, are funding initiative campaigns in multiple states. Bloggers, including two in Oregon, have mapped even more connections.An analysis of public records by The Oregonian, however, is the first to connect Rich to more than $7 million in contributions to initiatives this year.

That spending makes this a breakout year for Rich and his political organizations, which have never spent so much trying to shape state policies.

The story eked out a quote from Rich — nearly identical to that found in the High Country News article. Now the article doesn’t mention Montana specifically, but it does say it found evidence the Rich funded spending caps initiatives in 12 states, among which, one assumes, is Montana.

Okay…so…you know…maybe we could expect a story about Montana’s initiatives now? You know, now that the story was covered by a newspaper, not a blog or independent weekly?

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The latest to connect the dots between Montana’s extremist ballot initatives – 98, 154, and – and real estate mogul Howie Ric is the Independent’s Alyssa Work: “Following the Money.”

The story features a closer look at Jon Motl, the Helena lawyer challenging for a right to peek into Travis Butcher’s Montanans in Action (a misnomer, if ever there was one), which has paid for a swarm of signature gatherers to cajole Montanans into signing petitions. The story, for the first time in a Montana print-based publication, acknowledges Howard Rich as a primary source of the money flowing in to the state.

Americans for Limited Government is chaired by New York’s lavish-spending libertarian Howard Rich. Connecting the dollar signs between Rich’s Chicago-based ALG and Montanans in Action has been mostly an exercise in speculation, since Montanans In Action’s finance report discloses no contributors, but Rich recently told High Country News that he gave $200,000 to MIA through his Fund for Democracy, and Butcher acknowledged in June that ALG had given a loan to MIA; the committees’ finance reports declare more than $8,000 in checks for loan repay to ALG “lost.” An e-mail Butcher sent to ALG President John Tillman requesting a routing number for a petition-gathering outfit is also in Motl’s complaint to suggest ties between the two organizations.

For those of you following this story closely, Work’s piece doesn’t bring much new to the table. But it does mean that the weekly has scooped the state’s dailies. No offense to the Independent, but the local papers have given the alternative paper plenty of time to get the story out first.

So why silence from the Missoulian, Gazette, IR, etc? I doubt if there’s a conspiracy to help Rich thwart the notion of government by remaining mum on his participation in these terrible initiatives. What’s more likely is that the papers are getting quotes and confirmation and trying to build a more thorough and less “speculative” story.

Which ultimately means they’re thumbing their noses at both the High Country News and blogger Hart Williams. Sure you might argue that information from sites like these is unreliable…but to ignore the stories completely? That just doesn’t make sense. HCN got a quote from Rich that acknowledges he funded these initiatives. Surely that is news, isn’t it?

According to the papers it ain’t news until one of them prints it. And until a newspaper prints the link between the initiatives and Howie Rich, they’re going to pretend nothing’s been said about it. And believe me, when a Montana reporter finally gets around to her fact-checking, you can bet your farm there won’t be a single mention of the blogs or High Country News or even the Independent when attributing the information. They’ll pretend its their story.

Of course I don’t really care if they take ownership of the story. I wish they would. That’s the problem. Tick tock, people! Time is money! Let’s get on it already!

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that these traditional news outlets are still struggling with changing technology and the impact on journalism it’s having. Take the Missoulian’s recent decision to put some of its stories behind a firewall…why would they do such a thing?

“On-line news sites have benefited by the subsidy they have received in form of free or discounted news that they get from print and broadcast media. At the Missoulian we employ 42 professional journalists who are paid professional wages. An online model alone will not support a staff of that size in a market the size of Missoula. They generate original content that is often reused by sites that contract with the Associated Press for their content, and is often used by other sites without our authorization or permission…”

There’s a feeling of conflict with blogs latent – or not so latent – in this statement. We’re a threat in the eyes of paleo-publishers. Forget that blogs actually increase visibility for a paper (look how much play the Gazette gets nationally for its coverage of Burns and the Abramoff scandal), just as downloading free music actually increases the sales of music.

Get over yourselves already traditional media people. Share your content with the world, get some cool online features on your site, and rake in the cash through a different sales model. Like selling ad space on your site. Or having subscription-based services with low overhead – job or dating boards, e.g. The better the website, the more readers you’ll have.

Here’s a little tidbit. I actually applied for the job of running the Missoulian’s online site. I suggested all these things, different models for revenue, different features to attract clicks, the whole kebang. I didn’t get the job. Based on their site, I’d say they picked a person whose previous experience was designing velvet wall hangings for metal bands.

Anyhoo…

High Country News has got the dirt on Montana’s initiative 1542 – which you’ll remember I called “anti-democratic.” Like blogger Hart Williams, HCN’s Ray Ring traced back the money backing the initiative through Americans for Limited Government to a single source: Howie Rich.

Americans for Limited Government has provided loans and expertise to the Montana initiative, plus $827,000 to the Arizona initiative, $200,000 to Washington initiative, and $107,000 to the one in Nevada, according to the Nevada initiative’s leader. Americans for Limited Government has also given $2.5 million to another libertarian group, America at its Best, based in the Washington, D.C., area, which has in turn funneled $100,000 to the Idaho initiative. One key figure is the chairman of the board of Americans for Limited Government, Howie Rich. A real estate mogul based in New York City, Rich is also on the board of the libertarian flagship Cato Institute in D.C., and heads his own Fund for Democracy….This year, Rich says he has funneled nearly $200,000 through a group called Montanans in Action to back the Montana initiative, along with two related initiatives aimed at setting state tax limits and making it easier to recall liberal judges. The head of Montanans in Action, Trevis Butcher, says he doesn’t know Rich, but he declines to say whether he is getting money from the Fund for Democracy; he won’t reveal any of his backers. Records in other states show that Rich has put $1.5 million into the California regulatory-takings initiative, $230,000 into the Idaho one, and $25,000 into the Arizona version.

Unlike Williams, Ring managed to track down Rich:

On the phone, Rich was confident of the rightness of his cause. “I believe in the American Dream. … I believe in free markets. I believe that … government has been growing at an excessive rate, at the federal level and in many states,” he said. “I’m happy to support local activists who are working to protect property rights in a whole bunch of states.”

[snip]

In my talk with Howie Rich, I told him that, despite the campaign’s sales pitch, I believed these initiatives are about a lot more than eminent domain. Nationwide, eminent domain is invoked on behalf of developers only a few thousand times a year. But the proposed regulatory-takings initiatives are likely to affect millions of property owners, day in and day out, year after year. “I agree with you,” Rich said, “the implications … on the regulatory extent are very far-reaching, very important.” In fact, he said, the originator of the regulatory takings idea, University of Chicago economist Richard Epstein, e-mailed him a while ago, saying that “trillions” of regulations can be cast as takings.

And how is Oregon’s regulatory-takings initiative – the dimwit half-stepbrother of Montana’s CI 1542 – working out?

But now that Measure 37 is taking effect, many Oregonians — including thousands of neighbors who have written official comment letters on the claims — say the new law is a disaster. “It creates indecision and unpredictability for everybody in the state — whether you’re a homeowner, a business(person), a farmer, or an urban dweller, you no longer have a clue what’s going to happen next door, because now there is a free pass to violate laws,” said Elon Hasson, a lobbyist for the state’s leading pro-planning group, 1000 Friends of Oregon.The most poignant stories come from people who voted for Measure 37, and now see negative impacts on their own neighborhoods and property values. “I voted for the measure because I believe in property rights,” Rose Straher, who lives in tiny Brookings on the southern Oregon coast, told me. The owner of a nearby 10-acre lily farm filed a Measure 37 claim to turn it into a 40-space mobile-home park, and got the Curry County government to waive its regulations. Straher and 46 other neighbors signed a petition opposing it. Measure 37 “has absolutely no protection for the neighborhood,” Straher told me. “You’re giving superior rights to one particular owner. That is a big flaw.”

Really, I can’t do this story enough justice. Read it. Discuss.

This initiative has nothing to do with protecting individual property from eminent domain. In reality, it’s an attempt to handcuff government from imposing regulation on development.

If you like billboards, by all means, vote for CI 1542.

There’s been a lot of talk swirling around the trio of terrible ballot initiatives sponsored by a shady cabal of conservative interests and the amount of money spent to get them on the ballot. Today, the Gazette ran a story about who and how much spent the money:

Financial support for Constitutional Initiatives 97 and 98 and Initiative 154 comes primarily from one group: Montanans in Action, a nonprofit group that so far has declined to reveal specifically where it gets its money.

Reports filed this week show that Montanans in Action has spent nearly $633,000 on the campaigns for the three measures. That accounts for 92 percent of financial support for the three measures. Of that amount, $580,000 was paid to signature-gatherers, the reports showed.

I’ve written a bunch of posts about these initiatives. They are reprehensible and misleading.

CI 97 is the “Stop Overspending” bill, which is a spending cap initiative that would basically cripple the state’s ability to deal with changing population demographics, and whose inbred uncle — Colorado’s TABOR — nearly took down the state’s school system.

CI 98 is an attempt to do an end run around the foundations of American constitutional democracy by making judges subject to simple recalls, likely an effort to more easily implement bizzaro conservative agendas.

CI 154 is an eminent domain law that would force the state to compensate property owners for regulation that affects the property’s value. That is, environmental regulations, and mining property, for example. The initiative, however, makes it easier for the government to condemn property and take it away from you. Basically the initiative’s sole purpose is to destroy the government’s ability to regulate business.

In other words, these initiatives open the door for a few powerful businesses and conservative ideologues to run roughshod over our state without leaving us any power to stop them. They want to eliminate taxation, eliminate services, and eliminate government control over their polluting or dangerous business practices.

These are not initiatives born of democracy intended for the good of our community. If the very ideology behind the initiatives haven’t convinced you that these bills are not in your interest, then the fact that unknown interests have poured more than a half million dollars to pay a bunch of out-of-state professional signature gatherers to descend on Montana and trick, fool, and deceive people into putting their names on these dreadful petitions should make it plain as day.

But wait! It gets worse!

Sandlapper on the Daily Kos wrote a post about the vast sums of money stemming from a Montana “nonprofit” intended for other similar initiatives in other states:

Who in Montana — or somewhere else — would be hiding behind laws that shield a nonprofit group’s books to send more than $600,000 to ballot campaigns in California, Nebraska and elsewhere? Is a political action committee there being used as a right-wing tool to launder and funnel money across the country, the same as Tom DeLay’s TRMPAC is accused of doing in Texas? And what does Trevis Butcher, a conservative political activist in Montana, have to do with it?

But wait! Sandlapper has another post on the unethical practices of professional Oklahoma signature gatherers! Sound familiar? It should! (To be fair to the signature gatherers, Montana doesn’t have a residency requirement for gathering signatures. But from the general harassment endured by these initiatives’ out-of-state mercenaries it’s fair to say that little attention was paid to the means, just the results.)

There is hope. First, Schweitzer has tied one of these nasty measures to his property tax rebate, and I’m convinced anything that the Guv goes against is as good as dead. Second, some Montanans are getting suspicious of Travis Butcher’s sudden effusion of cash; according to Sandlapper’s first post, Jonathon Motl of Montanans for Fair Initiatives has demanded a review of Butcher’s books.

I’m curious and eager to see the results. When you turn rocks over all sorts of uglies crawl out…

Update: On a positive note, the minimum wage initiative made the ballot. Excellent news.

Just a few days before the primary elections, I blogged about a professional signature gatherer I ran into on Higgins St in downtown Missoula. He tried to get me to sign the troika of extremist petitions – 97, 98, and 152 – by playing off my civic urges and laziness (usually very effective). It turns out I’m not the only one who feels a little weird about these clipboard mercenaries running around Montana.

In the comments to that post, Pogie wrote:

The nice kid from Colorado who tried to get me to sign explained the Judge recall in a novel way:“Say you get a ticket or arrested and you don’t like the judge’s decision, this initiative will give you the right to get a new judge.”

In this week’s Independent, Alyssa Work wrote up a brief on these “petition peddlars,” well worth a read. Here are a couple of excerpts that struck me:

Winifred rancher Trevis Butcher, campaign coordinator for CI-97; which would cap state spending; CI-98, allowing judicial recall by petition; and I-154, weakening the state’s eminent domain powers, says the initiatives are designed to “allow citizens to direct their own government.” The petitioner who approached me with a request to “steal a couple of signatures” expressed little passion for democratic action, however. “This is just a temp job until Monday” he said, “I don’t really want to get into talking about the issues in-depth.” Instead, he was eager to discuss the angsty hand-written poetry he was simultaneously hawking.

Work did…well…a little work and found out who’s paying these professional signature gatherers:

National Voter Outreach, an organization circulating petitions in 20 states, is under contract to coordinate Montanans in Action’s signature-gathering in Missoula, says Lorianne Kaserman, a manager for NVO. Kaserman says she’s “on loan” to train paid workers and “supplement them with people in the business.”

Oh, h*ll, let me just post the rest of the article:

Educator’s union MEA-MFT is organizing to prevent CI-97 from reaching the ballot. Communications director Sanna Porte is critical of the signatures-by-contract method: “The state is basically under siege by a small army of out-of-state mercenary signature gatherers,” says Porte. “This is the first time we’ve seen it in Montana. It’s pretty new and pretty weird.” Porte says she’s “concerned that Montanans don’t know what they’re signing.”

Recent inquiries to political practices commissioner Gordy Higgins about the legality of some petitioners’ strategies suggest that such concerns may be founded. According to Higgins, one woman who contacted him felt “duped” by a petitioner who claimed that all three petitions were copies, requiring signatures, of the topmost eminent domain petition.

“We have to put our heads together and decide how to address this,” Higgins says. “The gatherer has to be able to swear that the person knew what they were signing, and if they can’t, it’s our responsibility to file a complaint.”

Paying people to collect signatures is legal. And I have no problem with that. These drives require a coordinated effort; staff is needed; reliable signature gathering is required. I think it’s fine to pay the gatherers so that they can pay rent while they work for their cause.

It used to be that you needed to be at least a registered voter in the state where you collect signatures. Thanks to a recent court decision, that’s no longer the case. And I can’t say that I honestly disagree with the decision. Does a person have to be a registered voter – or even live in the state – where their cause is playing out and requiring signatures?

No, what gets me is that the advocates of this troika of cr*p legislation can’t – won’t – find anyone instate and interested in collecting signatures for them. Instead we’re assailed by a crop of people who don’t even know about the legislation they’re gathering signatures for. I’ve heard too much anecdotal evidence to think that these mercenaries aren’t doctoring their explanation of these bills to con people into signing them. How many signatures were gathered under false pretenses? How many signatures were conned onto the clipboards making their way across the state like a cloud of locusts?

Here’s the deal – and spread the word, people! — if a signature-gatherer approaches you and describes the bill egregiously wrong – like the one who approached Pogie – get their names! Turn them in…to commissioner Higgins?

I’ll get back to you about who you should call to register a complaint.

I’m all for the democratic process, and I respect the right of anybody to gather signatures, even these anti-tax, anti-government groups who want to take our communities down. But let’s at least force them to find people who care about, and understand the legislation they want on our ballot.




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