1. Foreword Let us make clear from the start
that this plan proposes the incorruptible
initiatives system NOT the
initiatives system used today in 24 states and many cities.
This foreword explains
clarifies how they avoid Oregon initiative defects, and shows
why they are far more effective and trustworthy.
With “Oregon” initiatives, any wealthy special
interest group can write a self-serving devious initiative
qualify it for the ballot using paid
signature gatherers. (Yet despite this,
citizens strongly support
their hard-won initiative rights.)
With "Athenian" initiatives, informed creative citizens propose
initiatives and an Assembly of 500 randomly-selected citizens meet monthly to qualify
the very best. The 500 citizens are like a super-grand-jury; big enough
to represent accurately the views of the entire population, and
protected so tampering attempts are dauntingly dangerous with almost
inevitable punishment. A super-large-jury has the
wisdom to winnow the proposed
initiatives so only the best few go on the ballots, and then the people
make the final decisions.
About 2,500 years ago, ancient Athenians invented democracy with
initiatives as its cornerstone. It lasted
almost 200 years (until the Macedonians conquered Athens). Historians call
it the "Golden Age of Athens" because it is the foundation of our
western civilization and of all the world's democracies. Not only did
the system work, it produced arguably the most productive and creative period in our
entire human history. Athenian cornerstones of
Juries of randomly-selected citizens decided right from wrong,
innocence from guilt. The Founding Fathers
Athenian jury concepts (via the Roman Empire, Magna Carta, and English
common law) as the heart
of the Judicial Branch for settling all manner of disputes from
murder and rape to massive class actions and complex financial
Majority votes of the people made the important decisions.
The Founding Fathers adopted it as the heart of how we elect our
Presidential and Legislative branches of representative democracy.
For over 100 years, the States have made majority vote by
initiative a de
facto part of our constitution.
which in ancient Athens meant a
Council of 500
set the electorate's voting agenda on initiatives proposed by citizens. Athenians considered the
Boule to be the
incorruptible and most important cornerstone of democracy. The Founding Fathers
did not know this—archeologists did not find and translate the
key documents until
1891, 115 years
after the Fathers framed the constitution.
Initiatives are the people's only permanent and definite method to assure
that government, Congress in particular, operates and knows that it must operate for the People's
benefit and not for the benefit of Congress, Congresspersons, or their friends.
Legislative Initiatives will
generally provide enforcement of the people's will over Congress. For
the Executive and Judicial branches of government,
and for some intractable
Congressional issues, Constitutional
Initiatives will be necessary. Though constitutional Initiatives
will enable the People to
amendments, they will still require ratification by the States. All
alternatives to Initiatives
as the People's ultimate control of government are temporary
fixes and, as the People are painfully aware, ultimately fall far short or fail
This Plan proposes to incorporate
Boule cornerstone-of-government in modernized form (i.e.,
stripped of all authorities except
processing initiatives) as a constitutional amendment that
will reliably improve our dysfunctional federal government and help control
its excesses. Though compared to Congress, initiatives will provide an
extremely small proportion of our laws, they will be highly effective—e.g., by ensuring that government fulfill its constitutional duties. In
later sections, the Plan explains in detail why we need this
constitutional improvement to our system of checks and balances and how we can implement it.
This Plan's modern Boule has less scope and authority than the original
Athenian Boule, preserving only the power to manage and qualify
Initiatives. Moreover, there are many variations on the theme of a deliberative Citizens'
Assembly, so the structure and functions of a Boule require finer detail
to clarify specifics:
The Plan calls for concurrent action on
(i) a U.S. constitutional amendment for nationwide initiatives and (ii) a
revalidation of the Athenian initiatives system at state
and/or large city levels. This concurrent approach has three principal
Because of the great time needed to process a U.S. constitutional
amendment, and the lesser, but still substantial, time for state or
city revalidation, concurrency will save many years. The easiest
states in which to make the concurrent validation are those that
already have a direct initiative process.
the 16 states with direct constitutional initiatives (i.e., AZ, AR, CA,
CO, FL, IL, MI, MO, MT, NE, NV, ND, OH, OK, OR, and SD) a state
constitutional initiative is all it takes to replace Oregon with
Athenian initiatives. In all of these 16 states plus 3 direct
legislative initiative states (i.e., ID, UT, and WA), all it takes
is a state constitutional referendum.
The momentum for a national initiative will encourage the state/city
revalidation; the state/city revalidation will encourage the national
This approach will update details from current experience, manage
expectations, provide an irrefutable demonstration for doubters,
and allow cross-fertilization of ideas—all without incurring
additional risk. This is entirely feasible because, under the U.S.
constitution, the final details of the Amendment are determined at
the Article V Convention of the states, which will occur after a
state has validated
smaller states and cities, the Boule approach has an unavoidable
the smaller the population the
more expensive it is
per capita. For example, a nationwide
initiative system will cost about 35¢ per capita per year—1/60th of
the cost of running Congress. For California it would cost about ¢70 per
capita per year, for Washington State about $3.50. However, by comparison, the
ancient Athenians thought it worth paying several hundred dollars per capita per year!
Special interests' influence over
Congress has become excessive. It causes government to
promote special interests'
well-being over the people's
As a direct consequence, each year government squanders at least
$350 billion of the
people's wealth—over $4,000 per year from a family of four.
Moreover, the related
decay in our highest elected officials now permeates governance and the business
elite, as evidenced by gross malfeasance, corruption, and
government-sanctioned theft in many of our
most trusted institutions. The situation is intolerable; we
cannot permit it to stand.
in our republic the people can elect representatives who will solve these problems.
Unfortunately, special interests—for
example, big business, lobbyists, multi-national corporations,
military-industrial complex, foreign governments—select the slate of
viable candidates in both parties and influence them long before
the people vote. Today, our constitutional checks and balances cannot restrain the
impact of media's enormous cost and its extremely persuasive technologies.
The resulting huge campaign spending by special interests translates into almost
permanent reelection of their chosen candidates. Inevitably, those
elected have major obligations to their contributors.
and will not resolve
these problems because solutions are contrary to the personal
interests of a majority of its members. Voters may change
political leadership, but, despite campaign promises, improvements are
usually cosmetic. Congress is a law unto itself and can always reverse
improvements, create loopholes, and make end-runs.
that underlying causes remain unchanged; these systemic problems continue to grow. The Constitution's preamble
defines fundamental concepts of our republic—government must promote the general welfare. Excessive promotion of
special interests' welfare over the people is clearly dysfunctional governance.
would be stupid to permit managers of a business to set their own pay,
perquisites, ethics, and rules for vendor gifts—we know that such a
company would be a disaster. Nevertheless, we permit congresspersons to
do exactly this and more. So, how can we retain the benefits of good
representative government while providing oversight control to keep
congresspersons responsive to our wellbeing after we elect them?
must lie in improved checks and balances—it is manifestly futile to keep
hoping that a preponderance of congresspersons will somehow overcome
their human nature. The literature abounds with authors who criticize
government but offer no solution or hope that Congress will somehow
implement a solution. This Plan takes a proactive stand: it applies the
constitutional right of the People and the power of the States to enforce a solution
upon Congress over inevitable congressional opposition. The plan follows the
explicit remedy prescribed by the
in the U.S. constitution—it conforms strictly to the written word of the
4. Only the
can control congressional excesses.
History has repeatedly proved that Congress cannot and will not do it. Constitutional separation of powers
bars such control by the President, Judiciary, or
Moreover, a commission of appointed or elected members cannot have this power
constitutionally unqualified and because its members are subject to
by special interests and by Congress. Thus, the responsibility to limit
congressional excesses falls unavoidably upon the people.
Politics is about power. Because congressional maneuvers
and special interests largely nullify the people's votes, the people
retain very little federal power. Nationwide Citizens'
Initiatives are the
only constitutional way
for the people to gain significant power to set things right. However,
the approach taken for State and City initiatives is
inadequate—not least because they are wide open to special interests'
abuses. Consequently, this Plan uses a nationwide ballot Initiative process
that is a great
improvement over that used in the States. In particular, it
has ample safeguards ensuring that special interests can
never gain control, that ballot
initiatives will be
clear, that Initiatives receive
before they get on the ballot, and that the number of initiatives will
overload the voters.
Nationwide ballot Initiatives are necessary not because the people
have a perverse desire to exercise the
congressional control function directly,
but because they have profound convictions that Congress has ceased to
be responsive to the popular will and that Congress has no innate
ability to reform itself. The goal is to overcome Congress' detrimental
resistance to change in order to permit long-term improvement of
representative government—not to undermine or to micromanage Congress.
solution is entirely consistent with the Founding Fathers' views. For
U.S. Citizens are familiar with initiatives—about
70 percent of the people can vote on
initiatives at their state or local elections. Polls constantly show that voters overwhelmingly
support nationwide Initiatives by about
three to one. By their use of initiatives in
24 states and at
local levels for over 100
years, the people have demonstrated that they are competent to exercise this
At a national level, Switzerland has used
nationwide initiatives since 1891—i.e.,
about 115 years.
Switzerland modeled its constitution on the U.S. constitution with a direct
democracy overlay. Despite many early political doubters of the people's
competence, the people have demonstrated exceptional judgment. Swiss
initiatives have never caused a crisis and have several times helped
defused crises (Fossedal
p. 91)—a far better record than most representative lawmaking.
Starting as a poor mountainous
nation with few natural resources and no seaports, Switzerland has thrived
to become a top-ranked economic, democratic, and stable nation.
The Founding Fathers
in 1787 avoided mentioning any form of
direct democracy in the
Constitution because they
believed that the entire electorate had to meet in one place (Wilson,
By 1920, state initiatives had proved that this constraint is unnecessary.
Initiatives are not a
panacea for all that ails this nation. Expectations must be realistic.
Nevertheless, they will solve many current
as they arise. Cumulatively, Initiatives will have a major long-term impact
on our nation's success and a huge
cost-benefit to the people.
5. Outline of the
Operation of a Boule (i.e.,
Citizens' Initiatives Assembly)
Citizens Propose Initiatives
groups of Citizens and
qualified U.S. organizations will
write the proposed initiatives. Small groups tend to be
creative than large groups. Some examples are a
blue ribbon panel, a study group, a self-selected team of
the nation's best minds, a nonprofit
organization, or any group of 25 ordinary citizens. They propose Initiatives for federal legislation and
constitutional amendments by
publishing them in a specific newspaper, category, and day of
the week. To control a flood of Initiatives, an
of $10,000 will decline over time. A Citizen may propose one Initiative every
A blog shows some
Citizens Provide On-Line Feedback
All proposed Initiatives, modifications
and comments will be available and searchable on-line from the
Boule's web site
in the form of web blogs
or successor technologies. By publication or after registering a valid
Internet ID, U.S. Citizens' and qualified U.S.
organizations will improve Initiatives by providing
feedback on proposed
Initiatives, participating in opinion polls, etc.
480 randomly selected Citizens (an
accurate cross-section of all Citizens eligible
to vote). It does what a
does well—it deliberates and ranks the proposed
after a process of
expert help, feedback, etc. The Boule may suggest
corrections and/or improvements to the Authors and the
Authors may re-propose their Initiative.
Boule will be
independent from government,
the People through Initiatives, protected to a
higher degree than a Federal Grand Jury, extremely
tampering or media exploitation.
The final selection will be from Initiatives that
have passed all the safeguards and will not
overburden the Voters. At
each general election, a maximum of
qualified Initiatives will go on the ballot as
Candidate Direct Initiatives.
In addition, the Boule may submit up to twelve
Candidate Indirect Initiatives to Congress over each two-year
period. Congress may modify them, may or may not
pass them, and they are subject to Presidential
veto. Indirect Initiatives are appropriate when the
Authors believe that Congress will
support them, thereby
saving the nationwide
Electorate much time and effort. If Congress or the
President decides not to take appropriate action, the
Initiative can still go on the ballot as a Direct
Citizens Vote on Initiatives
The people make the actual decision to
approve or reject each Candidate Direct Initiative by voting at general elections. If
passed, they become law that neither Congress nor the President
6. Anticipating federal excesses,
the Founding Fathers
built a remedy into the U.S. Constitution.
Their wording of Article V explicitly grants the States the necessary
constitutional power to
curb federal excesses by use of the second method of amending the
Article V Convention of the
States. Reasonable care will avoid
The wording of the second method follows:
Congress, …on the application of the legislatures of two thirds
of the several states, shall call
a convention for proposing
amendments, which… shall be valid to all intents and purposes as
part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of
three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three
fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification
may be proposed by the Congress…."
(Article V, 2nd Method)
seeking state support for the new Constitution, the Founding Fathers explained this remedy as
The Constitution and the intentions of the Founding
Fathers are united and clear. The people have the
and the States have the
and duty to alter a Government that harms the people. Since the problems will
worsen, procrastination increases the
must check congressional excesses and deficiencies otherwise we abandon
Dream that is
already slipping away
in large part due to special interests' influence.
and state constitutions
each state to limit federal Government's excesses.
These are powerful obligations, because all state legislators
have sworn oaths to support both constitutions. State legislators can
fulfill their duty most prudently by putting the issue to a
state referendum. (State governments can
important additional benefits.)
As shown in the schematic, State legislation,
and initiatives are valid methods to initiate an Article V Convention.
Referenda are preferable because they
of the States with the inalienable right of the people to
alter their government. Their
brings momentous constitutional authority to bear on any constitutional
disputes with Congress. Referenda are available in
all 50 states.
majority of legislators in any of the
24 initiative states disregards
their oaths, the people can use a state initiative to initiate the plan. If
legislators in any of the other states disregard their oaths, the people must
elect legislative majorities who will respect
their duty to the people.
matter how much authority the voters and state constitutions
give to state referenda and initiatives, U.S. and state Supreme Court decisions
generally argue that
the State Legislature, not an initiative or referendum, must make the
to Congress. The States should comply with this literal interpretation of
Article V until the U.S. Supreme Court clarifies these matters.
the constitutional power to deny the
States' application, though it may cause delays. Reasonable care will
avoid second-method procedural
speed the process.
8. When several states support this plan, they should
annex it and improve it.
When they annex it, the states will have complete control over the
Amendment's content and wording—this web site will
surrender all rights. After
34 states have submitted applications, Congress
shall call the
Convention. The Convention will propose
Congress will choose the
method. Finally, 38 States will
ratify it. If state
legislators embrace the plan, the Amendment will cost just a
few million dollars and
could take effect in as little as five years. If
they oppose it, costs could climb past
250 million dollars and
it could take perhaps 15 years.
9. Passing the
will be tough—but it is
and real change will certainly ensue.
(By comparison, our current practice of electing charismatic politicians
who promise solutions is seductively easy, but they inevitably fail to deliver
real lasting change.) Federal government,
conglomerate media and many
special interests will almost unanimously oppose the Amendment. Though
our success is certainly possible, no one can assure it. However, if
we do not try, success is impossible; we condemn ourselves, and our
decedents, to a substantially lesser quality of life.
To avoid dependence on opponents' resources, the
Amendment campaign must initially rely on the
Internet, which the media does not yet control. Self-initiated
support must come from citizens, public interest organizations, blogs,
promoting web sites and concurring politicians at all levels of
The issue reached the 2008 presidential race. One candidate,
Senator Mike Gravel, proposed a plan
to limit congressional excesses—the
National Initiative for Democracy (NI4D). We praise Senator Gravel
for his courage and wisdom. The NI4D concept has much in common
with this plan, though there are important differences
where certain features of NI4D need improvement. Other
presidential candidates realize that the people are serious about
forcing Congress to change its ways but avoid confronting the issue of
nationwide initiatives. The issue will increase in importance but we can expect almost
all congressional candidates to finesse it. Some state candidates, on
the other hand, may decide that change is overdue and come out in
Ultimately, the amendment campaign must focus on gaining
support of state legislators.
Realistically, the public debate will begin in earnest only after the
first state legislature places a
state referendum on their state ballot asking the people in their
state if they support a
U.S. Citizens' Initiatives Amendment. The people's vote will probably reflect the
votes in favor for
each vote against. Once this public support
becomes apparent, state legislators will mostly decide to support the
Amendment or face serious reelection difficulties.
As the peoples'
with Congress turns to anger
and the States decide to limit federal encroachments, this adjustment to
our system of constitutional checks and balances is
hundred years ago, our ancestors introduced state ballot initiatives to limit
big business excesses in state government. Today, nationwide
"Athenian" Initiatives can limit special interests' influence and
federal government excesses.
However, as with any significant government reform, it is a great threat
to vested political and economic powers. Realistically, it will take
great public misery before the demand for serious fundamental change
tipping point. Unfortunately, the nation seems to be heading in that
direction. In the event, this website presents perhaps the best and
least tumultuous option, which could emerge as the right solution, in
the right place, at the right time.