Beating back bad initiatives–one at a time

With three elections scheduled for 2008 in California, we’ve seen a tidal wave of initiative offerings announced and plunked into the expensive signature gathering process. Most of these measures come from cash-abundant corporations and their front groups trying to impose their will on the public. They include ideas designed to balloon corporate profits to the detriment of the environment, public health or individual rights (over-reaching eminent domain actions), advance the interests of the wealthy corporate accountability dodgers, repackage measures that have been tried and rejected in the past (such as anti-reproductive choice initiatives that incessantly appear), and programs that benefit special interest groups, but not the public. Many of them are funded by out-of-state groups or mega-millionaires who want to impose their personal philosophies on California, often as “test cases” for future efforts in the rest of the country. Or, in the case of the most recent initiative proposal by the Republican Party, to steal the next Presidential election by trying to divide up California’s electoral votes.
One such unwanted effort comes from the big-business front group called the Civil Justice Association of California or “CJAC“. Earlier this summer it announced it was proposing a ballot measure that would virtually eliminate class action lawsuits in California. The goal is to deny individuals harmed by the unlawful behavior of big corporations the right to come together to sue in order to end the behavior and be made whole from the wrongful conduct.
Obviously, big corporations, like Wal-Mart, want to be able to stiff their workers if they can get away with it, but under current law they can be brought into court and made to pay for the wages and benefits they promise their employees. (Wal-Mart is currently defending just such a case).Certainly not a radical notion, but in this pro-business, consumer and worker-be-damned atmosphere, it isn’t surprising that the corporate-controlled CJAC would try to thwart the little guy’s right to access the court system for protection and justice. What CJAC and its big bosses didn’t realize was that the surprise was going to be on them.

Shortly after announcing the introduction of this class-action killer initiative, leading consumer, labor and civil rights groups got together and initiated a series of hard-hitting responses to this brazen attempt to further weaken the rights of the people who suffer from corporate wrong-doing. Among those efforts was the filing of a series of counter-initiatives designed to hold corporate CEO’s and other fat-cats personally liable and accountable when they engage in misconduct of their own.
Groups that haven’t always walked the same path or shared the same vision soon came together, recognizing that progressive values require cooperation and coordination in fighting off the well-organized and well-financed corporate influences. Organizations representing seniors, the poor, the environment, consumers, workers and civil rights groups came together with the Consumer Attorneys of California to present an intimidating and forceful united front against the brunt of corporate greed and irresponsibility.
And when the good guys unite, they win. Yesterday corporate-backed CJAC announced that it was withdrawing its ill-conceived initiative. In response, Consumer Attorney President Ray Boucher acknowledged that this victory is just part of a much larger battle, saying:
We will continue to fight for the rights of Californians who need a voice in the civil
justice system. We will continue to stand up to oil, tobacco, insurance,
pharmaceutical and HMO-backed CJAC and we will fight to protect consumers
and employees against corporate fraud, dangerous products, and the pilfering
of worker and investor profit-sharing plans. We won’t let Corporate America
take away any more of our legal rights and we won’t stand for its profit-over-people

This is the call-to-action that the progressive movement needs to come together to battle a well-heeled political and financial machine that wants to take away the hard-fought gains of the past decades. Motivated by nothing other than profit, these well-organized corporate interests have been successfully working to erode our consumer, worker and environmental protections. It is time we, the people, worked together to counter their well-oiled attacks on our rights and defenses. The progressive community and its lead organizations must coordinate their efforts to make sure corporations are held accountable when they engage in misconduct or misdeed.
Progressives must focus on what unites us, not what divides us if we are going to be successful in a partnership to advance good corporate stewardship and social responsibility among our many and varied entrepreneurial interests. We must also work hard to protect the public interest but can only do so if we work together. We have seen yet another glimpse of what success can look like if we do.
Today it’s one bad initiative down –but several more to go. Let’s keep the momentum going.