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Propositions to the people, online

September 17, 2008 |  9:47 am

Making_sausage It's is a political truism that big donors and special interests (hello, both sides of Indian gambling Propositions 94-97!) drive California's ballot initiative process. But now, taking a Web page from social networking sites like Facebook and Linkedin, Republican political consultant Mike Madrid has launched a site he says will make it easier for the masses to reclaim direct democracy.

The site, Californiapropositions.org , lets people to organize online by forming their own issue and campaign groups and find like-minded groups, just as they do on other social networking sites. But biggest benefits, Madrid says, will be in the two parts of the proposition process that cost the most -- raising cash and getting valid signatures.

An initiative requires 433,971 signatures to qualify for the ballot. (Or 694,354, if it’s a constitutional amendment.)  It costs about $2 million to hire specially trained signature gatherers, the ones who annoy you as you enter Rite Aid, trying to remember which prescription you need to get refilled. But Madrid’s site gets around all that by allowing anyone who wants to download and print out a petition, gather a handful of signatures and send the petition in.

Because they are free from finance limits, past initiative campaigns have usually relied on big gifts to run their operations, which means trade groups, unions and rich people get great political clout over how initiatives are written. Madrid also says the site will make it easier to reach thousands of small donors who can give $10 or $20, doing what the Barack Obama campaign has done. He notes that the campaign for a high-speed rail line -- not exactly the sexiest political issue -- has nearly 38,000 members on Facebook.

“I’m a huge proponent of the proposition-industrial complex,” he says. “Most people think it’s a cancer on the body politic. I think it does was it was designed to do, only it hasn’t been as accessible to the masses as it was originally intended.” The main downside of his approach, he predicts: It will make recall campaigns of politicians even more frequent.

-- Jordan Rau

Photo: Boxed petitions for a California ballot initiative. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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