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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Defeat of California Propositions

On March 26th, the voters of California defeated three proposals on the ballot that would have destroyed or restricted the legal protections of injured motorists and other people swindled of their savings or harmed by defective products.

About fifteen million dollars of computer, insurance and financial industry monies bankrolled these “democracy destroyers” behind a barrage of deceptive television advertisements. J.P. Morgan Services gave $1,655,000; Intel Corporation gave $800,000, Al Shugart of Seagate Technology gave $255,801 — to name a few of the fat cats.

Unfortunately for them, they were so extreme that both conservative and liberal commentators came out against these Propositions 200, 201 and 202.

Conservatives were offended by the total no-fault auto insurance proposals that took personal responsibility away from reckless drivers. No-fault takes away your right to sue reckless drivers and their insurance companies when the drivers smash into your car and seriously injure your family.

Conservatives also did not like the restrictions on small savers and investors property rights when they need to sue the banks, stock manipulators and other swindlers. Nor did they welcome price-fixing of contingency fee lawyers because they believed it would lead to other professions having their fees set.

Liberals, on the other hand, fought against these proposals because they would raise auto insurance rates, restrict benefits and tie the hands of defrauded or injured people who seek to hold their corporate wrongdoers accountable. Almost every consumer, environment, labor and minority groups came out against these sugar-coated corporate power grabs.

Certainly, the California referenda results will send a message to the Congress where mostly Republicans are trying to destroy similar legal protections and rights of wrongfully injured people.

But another message was sent to the new mega millionaires who think they can write several millions of dollars in checks in state after state and buy their own laws allowing them to escape law and order for their misdeeds.

This megamillionaires’ impulse to immunize them from full responsibility for harm done to innocent people is likely to increase. Fortunes of immense size are being made in appreciated stock of new computer or biotechnology companies. Too many of these new big boys on the block are pretty contemptuous of working under the same rules as regular Americans.

With the elections coming up on November, campaigning candidates should be asked by citizens where they stand in both preserving the present ability of folks to have their day in court against wrongdoers and increasing such abilities to take on these power-hungry companies and their overpaid executives.

Democracy means the rule of law and equal justice. Our modest democracy is out of balance, on its knees before the plutocrats and the oligarchs who have growing privileges and immunities and a lessening allegiance to our country and its people.

Doesn’t it come down to this: unless millions of Americans spend more time during the year as active public citizens, they will have less happy lives as private citizens.

That was the Jeffersonian idea of popular self-government -­people making it happen to counteract what he called “the excesses of the monied interests.” As many active citizens will tell you, citizen action is not only important, it is fun!