Strategies & Goals

The process of initiative and referendum is critical if we are to shift power back into the hands of ordinary citizens. For years, politicians and special interests have attacked the citizen initiative and referendum process with impunity. Their goal: to undermine the most powerful tool citizens possess for restoring accountable government. Now, through the Citizens in Charge Foundation, the people are fighting to protect their rights at the ballot box.

Citizens in Charge Foundation (CICF) is uniquely positioned as the only national organization committed to defending the ballot initiative process in states where it exists and expanding it to those states where citizens currently lack the process.

Accomplishments

In 2009,  working with citizens and local organizations across the country – and across the political spectrum – Citizens in Charge Foundation edcuated citizens and opinion leaders about the importance and benefit of an open and accessible initiative process. Critical information on changes to the initiative process were put in the hands of voters while the changes were being debated by lawmakers so that citizens could make informed decisions about initiative policy in their state.

  • In Oklahoma, while the legislature debated several key changes to the initiative process, CICF mounted a statewide awareness campaign to inform citizens from the capital city to the western cattle ranches on how those changes would effect their initiative rights. Knowledge is power, and armed with the knowledge of what an open and acessible initiative process, voters were able to successfully ask lawmakers to ease restrictions on their process.
  • When a group of Missouri legislators proposed several severe restrictions on the initiative process, CICF was able to provide information to legislators, activists and media outlets on how similar policies had worked - or failed - in other states. Once armed with the facts about restrictions on the initiative process, the legislature quickly scrapped plans to impose restrictions on voters.
  • CICF currently has Citizen State Coordinators organizing and educating supporters of the initiative process in 16 states; and that number keeps growing.

Through these efforts, CICF has empowered citizens to protect the initiative rights of 137 million Americans.

Upcoming Challenges

Although CICF’s educational efforts were successful in many states, the pro-initiative coalition has not prevailed everywhere. Legislation passed this year in Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon damages citizen initiative rights. Not only do these new laws contain elements ruled unconstitutional in other states, they also include a new provision imposing serious financial and criminal penalties on the proponents of initiatives for any wrongdoing in the course of the petition effort – even for violations not committed by them, but by people they hired to collect signatures!

Preventing such obvious intimidation is essential, and only an informed public and swift action against restrictive laws can prevent it. Lawsuits in these three states and others are needed to overcome restrictions on the initiative process. Our legal actions help galvanize grassroots support and inform the media about the illegal harassment of citizens engaged in the democratic process.

Strengthening our ever-growing and active grassroots network will allow us to accomplish the following goals in the next twelve months:

  • Have a Citizen State Coordinator organizing supporters in every state.
  • Provide even more information to citizens, opinion leaders and officials on how to maintain an open and accessible initiative process.
  • Challenge the restrictions passed in Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon as well as additional unconstitutional restrictions on the books in other states.
  • Defend the initiative and referendum process in the court of public opinion.

Grassroots and Media

Sky-high public support for initiative and referendum promises numerous opportunities to protect and expand the process. Consequently, Citizens in Charge Foundation is building a state-by-state grassroots network across the country, which educates voters on attempts to restrict their First Amendment rights and mobilizes the reservoir of public opposition against these restrictions.

Citizens in Charge Foundation empowers grassroots leaders through our Citizen State Coordinator Program.  These volunteer coordinators make a difference by engaging in activities at the local and state level to protect and defend the ballot initiative process. Our team of Citizen State Coordinators mobilizes “boots-on-the-ground” activists, meets and works with elected officials and opinion leaders, and hosts educational events.

To rapidly build coalitions, Citizens in Charge Foundation provides small start-up grants to organizations in the 24 states that have statewide initiative and referendum rights. These grants allow state organizations to set up a website, host a town hall event and/or other outreach and capacity-building activities.

CitizensInCharge.org serves as the meeting place for the initiative rights movement. The website provides activists with information about the history and nuances of each state’s process. It also helps our Citizen State Coordinators organize supporters in their state. Each state page contains updates from the coordinator, the latest state-specific news, requirements for petition drives, and an interactive multimedia section.

In addition to providing valuable information to our activists, the website serves as a resource for the media – both new and old. The Citizen Blog features updates from our team in the field, the latest national I&R news, and commentary from our staff on various voter rights issues from a trans-partisan point of view.

In 2007, Citizens in Charge Foundation launched Ballotpedia.org, a wiki-based website addressing all things ballot-related. We are currently preparing to launch Ballotpodium.com, a platform that will allow initiative proponents and opponents alike to debate before a broader audience. For every initiative on the ballot each election cycle, Ballotpodium will provide a one-stop shop for voters interested in debating the issues or just learning more about the propositions on the ballot in their state.

BallotBoxNews.com was launched this past spring, and has already received rave reviews from journalists who follow initiatives. This spin-off newswire is updated multiple times a day and serves as an unbiased clearinghouse for initiative, referendum and recall developments nationwide. Starting this fall, Citizens in Charge Foundation will produce a comprehensive Post-Election Report on ballot measures and the reforms endorsed by voters.

While the online community is of growing importance, personal, public engagement is vital to growing a grassroots movement. Citizens in Charge Foundation has held and co-sponsored several events, working with organizations spanning the political spectrum. From forums at the National Press Club to speaking engagements to monthly “Citizens on Tap” happy hours, we have engaged numerous political groups including Americans for Tax Reform, the American Civil Liberties Union, FairVote, Young Americans for Liberty, Common Cause, the Leadership Institute, U.S. PIRG, the Center for Competitive Politics, the National Taxpayer’s Union and the Transpartisan Alliance.

 

Legislative

While voters are increasingly turning to initiatives to make needed reforms, elected officials often are seeking to impose limitations on the process.

For this reason, it is important that there is a proactive effort by the pro-initiative community to stop further restrictions to the process. To that end, Citizens in Charge, a 501(c)(4) citizen-powered advocacy organization, works to defend the initiative process through the legislative system. Click here to read more about the work of Citizens in Charge.

Citizens in Charge Foundation takes additional action to complement the work of Citizens in Charge. Specifically, we work to build broad political coalitions and mobilize supporters; monitor and publicize anti-democratic, anti-initiative bills introduced in legislatures, as well as highlight their sponsors; and work to find legislative leaders to go on offense by introducing legislation to make needed reforms.

By using our grassroots networks and public events to draw attention to adversaries, we are creating a huge – and very public – disincentive to further impeding the ballot initiative process.

But enacting change in legislatures requires working from within the system, as well as reforming it from the outside. As a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Citizens in Charge Foundation has been active on the Elections & Ethics Subcommittee. We have been forming strategic partnerships with state legislators, who support the initiative process, and educating those who are unfamiliar with it.

Strategic Litigation

Most restrictions placed on the citizen initiative process by state legislators are vulnerable to federal court challenge on First Amendment grounds. Citizens in Charge Foundation will launch a national campaign to roll-back unconstitutional provisions of state law holding back citizen use of initiatives, referendums and recalls.

As the only national organization dedicated to protecting the process, Citizens in Charge Foundation will triage the nation’s petition regulations to determine the most important challenges.

  • Our first priority is to overturn any new attack on initiative rights.

This year, unconstitutional impediments have passed in Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. Citizens in Charge Foundation is pressing federal court challenges to overturn the unconstitutional provisions in each of these new laws.

This legal effort also benefits our broader political strategy of raising the “cost” to legislators seeking to undermine citizen initiative rights. Citizens in Charge, our advocacy organization, will publicize the legislative sponsors of these anti-initiative measures, not only educating their constituents as to their assaults against basic democratic means, but also informing citizens as to the legal cost to taxpayers to defend these unconstitutional laws.

  • Our second priority is to challenge older restrictions according to (a) the damage they do, and (b) our likelihood of success in court.

The Foundation is now pursuing lawsuits against existing unconstitutional laws in Alaska, Nebraska, Nevada and Ohio. The cases have already been filed in Nevada (challenging the state’s single subject rule) and in Ohio (suing the arbitrary ballot title process for referendums). We are working to file suit soon in Alaska (to overturn the state’s residency requirement and a limit on per signature payments to petitioners) and in Nebraska (challenging a residency requirement and other restrictions).

Currently, unconstitutional statutes that minimize the initiative process often stay on the books for years, mostly due to the cost of litigation in federal court. Seriously pursuing a legal complaint means taking the case through the federal district court and the federal circuit court of appeals. Depending on the specifics of the case, the cost usually runs between $150,000 and $250,000.

Citizens in Charge Foundation can sue for less. We have begun to build a nationwide network of pro-initiative, First Amendment attorneys. We’ve also established relationships with a number of prominent national legal organizations, including the Institute for Justice, the Center for Competitive Politics, and the American Civil Liberties Union.  Several top-notch litigators have agreed to work on cases pro bono, thus our costs amount to only court fees and the cost of travel for witnesses. Others have agreed to cut their fees in half or more. When working with the ACLU – in Nebraska, for instance – there is no cost to us at all.

Already, Citizens in Charge Foundation has played a critical role in significant legal victories to protect the right to petition. Now is the time to press our legal advantage, both to further open up the process for citizen use and to help politically undermine future legislative attacks against initiative rights.