Unleashes New Tool Against Taxpayers
with your tax money...
[by Jon Coupal] 9/8/05
By now, taxpayers
have grown accustomed to having their government work against
them. First, with a tax structure that is inequitable, complex
and burdensome. Second, with expenditure policies that are
frequently ineffective, wasteful and counterproductive to the
but still growing in frequency, is government use of taxpayer
funds in the political process in ways that are contrary to
taxpayers' best interests. More than troubling, this presents
a direct threat to democracy. Indeed, in a 1976 case called
Stanson v. Mott, the California Supreme Court recognized that "a
fundamental precept of this nation's democratic electoral process
is that the government may not 'take sides' in election contests
or bestow an unfair advantage on one of several competing factions.
A principal danger feared by our country's founders lay in
the possibility that the holders of governmental authority
would use official power improperly to perpetuate themselves,
or their allies, in office."
Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis
Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer
organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento.
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the legal and moral prohibitions against government electioneering,
politicians and bureaucrats find ways to pervert
the political process with impunity. For example, while prohibited
from spending money for political advocacy, public bodies are
permitted to "educate" voters. This distinction between "advocacy" and "informational" activity
is one that exists only in theory. Under the guise of the latter,
cities, counties and special districts will mail out glossy fliers
on a proposed tax increase and, without ever saying "vote
yes," either communicate all the good things that will happen
if the tax measure passes or all the horrible things that will
transpire if it fails. The implicit message is clear: "Listen,
you greedy taxpayers, we need this tax/bond/assessment/fee because
it is for the children/public safety/clean water, etc." You
get the idea.
Even when it comes
to direct electioneering, government has found a major loophole.
While most California cities will not
(usually) directly contribute money to political campaigns in
favor of higher taxes, they pay millions of dollars in "membership" dues
to government associations such as the League of California Cities.
The League, in turn, has spent millions to affect the outcome
of statewide ballot measures including spending $50,000 to defeat
Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act.
The League is quick
to point out that its political "slush
fund" is not comprised of member city dues but, rather,
other revenue such as advertising in their publications. But
the League misses the point. The League is financed almost exclusively
by member city dues and any ancillary income it receives should
be used to reduce those dues to save taxpayer dollars. Without
taxpayer dollars, the League would not exist. In short, it should
not be the business of government associations to finance political
Finally, we get to the latest disturbing trend. As part of the
election process on proposed tax increases, bonds, or other public
finance issues appearing on the ballot, taxpayer activists are
usually called upon or compelled to write ballot arguments. These
arguments are frequently the only information presented to the
voters that is not filtered through government because, especially
at the local level, ordinary citizens do not have the financial
resources to conduct expensive political campaigns.
As a rule, local activists try to be objective in cutting through
the glitz and obfuscation advanced by the pro-taxers in government.
Nonetheless, if there is something that the government entity
finds objectionable, it is now becoming more frequent to have
the activists served with a subpoena and ordered to appear in
court on the content of those arguments.
Often, the government entity will hire high-priced outside counsel
(again at taxpayer expense) to intimidate local citizens who
dare participate in the political process by submitting a ballot
argument against a proposed tax or bond. This goes way beyond
a legitimate attempt to correct misstatements. Too frequently,
government will overreach and attempt to have the court strike
statements that are factually true but that, because of their
truthfulness, are damaging to the goal of raising taxes.
But taxpayers can
strike back. Just last week a hearing was conducted in Calaveras
County on a taxpayer supported local initiative
that simply sought further voter review of a special tax in subsequent
years. The Ebbets Pass Fire Protection District hired expensive
San Francisco lawyers to strike the entire initiative from the
ballot. (This went way beyond just the arguments). The District
thought it could intimidate the two local taxpayer activists
by filing a "writ of mandate" with an extremely short
time to respond.
But attorneys with
Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association exposed this weak attempt
at intimidation by filing a response on behalf
of the activists and representing them in the courtroom. It took
the judge less than a couple of hours to render his opinion:
Proposition 218 guarantees the People the right to vote on taxes.
The attempt "to prevent the electors from voting on the
challenged initiative is denied."
Taxpayers need to be aware that even good faith efforts to participate
in the political process might attract government vindictiveness
and intimidation. But we won't give up. If we don't participate,
we discard our freedoms. CRO
is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association