Skip to content
Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > California Referendum

The Big Lie and the Big Dollar are at work again in California. Both have greased two referendums onto the March ballot that would further the ongoing corporate drive to destroy those laws of America that protect your safety and your savings.

One referendum is designed to severely limit the rights of shareholder-owners to sue companies that defrauded them and the accounting firms that approved the fraudulent statements. The small investor will be without the kind of remedies that got the Lincoln Savings and Loan bondholders their money back from the crooks.

The other referendum takes away rights of Californians to sue wrongdoers or the most serious highway injuries. Instead, the injured would be allowed a pittance for medical expenses and wage losses and nothing for a lifetime of pain and suffering. This referenda will be rich for insurance companies that want to sell motorists a second supplementary auto policy — that is, those motorists who can afford two policies. And private compulsory arbitration would replace the right to sue the insurance companies in court.

These proposals obtained the necessary signatures to qualify for the March (primary) ballot through deception. The mercenaries, who hired paid petition gatherers to get the signups, masqueraded as “consumer advocates” and shamelessly used names of prominent consumer advocates to give the impression that they supported these referenda when, in fact, these advocates are strongly opposed.

Someday, the American people will organize to stop these democracy destroyers. But in the meantime, the citizens are losing their democratic rights and remedies piece by piece to a new kind of lobbyist — the megamillionaire or billionaires who rode their companies stock to massive fortunes.

It used to be industries which lobbied through laws that immunized or subsidized them. Now if some businessman, who struck it rich, doesn’t like to be sued, he loads up some hired hand lobbying firms and gets rid of the law. Hey, for a few million dollars he can be his own legislature. Pay for petitioners to get the signatures under phony names like the “Shareholder Litigation Reform Initiative” and hire the advertising firms to blanket the television and — who needs to buy politicians?

This purchase of referendums was not what California Governor, Hiram Johnson, had in mind when he successfully pressed for his state’s constitution to authorize the voters’ right to the initiative, referendum and recall early in this century.

Governor Johnson, a farsighted man, probably could not have foreseen, in his worst nightmares, the corporate seizure of this fundamental right of the people. Indeed, he thought signatures would be gathered by volunteers, not by paid, commercial signature-gathering companies.

Well, who are some of the wealthy people financing what is deceptively called the “Alliance to Revitalize California.” Just the ones who don’t like to be hauled into court for their alleged misdeeds or want to head off any possibility of such suits in the future. Al Shugart, CEO of Seagate Technology has donated at least $136,000; Intel, the dominant computer chip company, that demands tax and other subsidies from local communities where it builds its plants, has poured in tens of thousands of dollars in contributions and loans. Gordon Moore, the CEO of Intel has donated personally $100,000. Symantec, Varian Associates, Cypress Semiconductor, Cadence Design Systems, Fidelity Investment, Adaptech, Inc., Tom Proulx (of Intuit fame), J.P. Morgan Services, Forbes and other moguls lusting for this buy your own law scheme.

The escape from legal accountability for fraud or, harm done, the drive for irresponsibility by these wealthy zillionnaires seem to know no boundaries. After their recent enactment of the Crooks and Swindlers Protection Act (S. 240) in Washington, these company executives and accounting firms are now heading for state legislatures or state referendum ballots to enact similar barriers against corporate law and order.

Notwithstanding a nearly two-decade long corporate financial crime wave, duly reported in the Wall St. Journal, only $2.5 billion have been paid to stockholders for federal securities fraud in the past 25 years. In the same period, corporate profits totaled $5 trillion. Apparently even this paltry return of only $2.5 billion in a quarter of a century (less than six months profit by Ford Motor Co. in 1994) is too much law and order.

As the widely published financial writer, conservative Benjamin Stein wrote last month in the New York Times: “Money talks, especially when it is talking the language of campaign contributions. At the end of 1995, it drowned out the voices of the savers and investors of America.”

Let’s hear the response of these outraged savers and investors when they go to the polls in California in March. Otherwise, the sleaze of the defrauders will be moving into your state’s politics to enact similar exemptions for their mishandling of your money.