Olson Remcho at Center of 2020 California Voter Initiative Process

In virtually every statewide election cycle over the last forty years, Olson Remcho attorneys have drafted or advised on some of the most important statewide initiatives to appear on the ballot. 2020 was no exception.  In a remarkably active election year, Olson Remcho attorneys had a hand in 10 of the 12 statewide initiatives on the ballot in 2020.

“We launched Olson Remcho in 2020 as the combination of two of the most powerful and influential political and election law firms in California,” said founding partner Lance Olson.  “Our involvement in all but two of this year’s initiatives demonstrates just how deep the firm’s experience goes.”

Our involvement in all but two of this year’s initiatives demonstrates just how deep the firm’s experience goes.

Olson and Managing Partner Karen Getman played a leading role in the drafting of Proposition 15 (Split Roll Measure) that would have amended California’s property tax structure.  Partner James Harrison drafted and advised on two other high profile measures– Propositions 14 (Stem Cell Funding) and Proposition 24 (California Privacy Rights Act)  – both of which were passed by California voters.  

The firm also supported proponents of two of these three measures in court.  Olson, Deborah Caplan, and Ben Gevercer of the Sacramento office successfully challenged several ballot pamphlet statements by opponents of Proposition 15 in one action in Sacramento Superior Court and defended Prop 15 proponents’ language in another.   Harrison, Getman and Kristen Rogers of the Oakland office represented proponents of Proposition 14 in an action challenging statements made by opponents in ballot pamphlet arguments against the initiative and negotiated a favorable settlement of the matter that  obtained a favorable settlement for proponents of Proposition 14.

The firm’s Compliance Reporting Unit, which ensures that all funds raised to support or oppose candidates or initiatives are reported in a timely way and used in compliance with local, state and federal laws, was also extremely active on 2020 ballot measures.  Led by Director of Compliance and Operations Michelle Wixom, the firm’s compliance team provided full support for five California initiative campaigns, including Yes on 15, Yes on 16, No on 22, Yes on 24, and Yes on 25 – filing thousands of reports for clients in the process. 

Harrison notes that the COVID-19 pandemic also impacted the initiative process itself.  Because of COVID-19, the ability of initiative proponents to collect a sufficient number of signatures was drastically curtailed.  This collection issue affected three of the firm’s clients.  The proponents of Prop 24 were able to collect signatures and timely submit them, but because one county submitted its raw count after 5 p.m., the Secretary of State notified the counties that they had until June 26, one day after the deadline for certification to submit their signature verification.  On behalf of the proponents, the firm sued the Secretary of State and obtained a ruling requiring the SOS to order the counties to submit by June 25 to ensure that the measure could qualify for the November ballot. 

Two other clients – the proponents of a single use plastics measure and a sports wagering measure – were further behind, and because of COVID-19, were unable to collect a sufficient number of signatures within the 180 days allowed by the Elections Code.  On behalf of the proponents of these measures, the firm sued the SOS and obtained rulings extending their time to gather signatures.  Both clients have now turned in their signatures in an effort to qualify for the next statewide ballot.

Appeals Court Rules That Initiatives Proposing Special Taxes Need Only a Simple Majority for Passage

On December 17, 2020 a California Court of Appeal panel ruled unanimously for a Fresno community organization represented by Olson Remcho, reversing a lower court decision and finding that voter initiative measures proposing special taxes need only simple majorities for passage.  The published opinion in City of Fresno v. Fresno Building Healthy Communities is here.   

The firm handled the case at both the trial and appellate levels.  Tom Willis argued the case before the appellate panel, appearing with Karen Getman and Ben GevercerDeborah Caplan and Lance Olson were the trial court team on the case.

California Court of Appeal panel rules unanimously for a Fresno community organization represented by Olson Remcho

According to the court’s opinion, “In the November 2018 general election, 52.17% of Fresno voters voted for Measure P, a voter initiative measure entitled the ‘Fresno Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Tax Ordinance.’ . . .After FBHC filed its opening brief, the First District Court of Appeal filed its opinion in City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons, 51 Cal.App.5th 703. There, the First District was presented exactly the same questions presented here, namely, whether Proposition 13 and Proposition 218 require a two-thirds vote of the electorate for passage of a voter initiative that imposes a special tax. In that case, the City and County of San Francisco filed a petition for declaratory relief asking for a determination that a special tax initiative that received 61 percent of the vote be declared passed. (All Persons, supra, 51 Cal.App.5that p. 708.) The trial court granted the City and County of San Francisco’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, and the First District affirmed. (Id. at pp. 708-709.) The First District ultimately concluded neither Proposition 13 nor Proposition 218 affects the voters’ initiative power, and therefore neither imposes a two-thirds voting requirement on the passage of voter initiatives that impose special taxes. (Ibid.) We fully agree with and endorse the holdings and reasoning of All Persons, and find that case controls the outcome here. We reverse.”

Olson Remcho’s Harrison Plays a Key Role in Drafting and Adoption of Landmark California Privacy Legislation

James C. Harrison,  a founding partner of Olson Remcho, is widely recognized as one of California’s leading experts on the drafting and defense of complex ballot measures at both the state and local level.  In 2020 he drafted and advised on several statewide measures, including the California Privacy Rights Act (“CPRA”), a landmark consumer privacy measure, that was approved by Californians as Proposition 24 in November 2020. 

Harrison’s work on California’s privacy laws began in 2017 when he was retained by Alastair Mactaggart and his advocacy group Californians for Consumer Privacy (“CCP”) to draft a ballot measure that would give Californians new privacy rights and more control over the personal data that they share online.  Mactaggart had become alarmed about the way that the major tech and social media companies were exploiting users’ location, spending habits, political views and other personal information to sell targeted advertising.

After CCP collected enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the November 2018 election, the California legislature jumped into the picture with their own bill.  On behalf of Mactaggart and CCP, Harrison participated in an intense two-week drafting and reconciliation session with legislators in June 2018 that married the two pieces of legislation and ultimately resulted in the groundbreaking California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”).  At the time it was passed the CCPA was the strictest privacy law in the U.S. and immediately became a model for similar legislation in other states.

“The passage of the CCPA in 2018 shows how policy issues can get a head of steam when the circumstances are right,” said Harrison.  “In the case of privacy and the misuse of personal data, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and numerous high profile data breeches had created a public  uproar and awakened legislators to the importance of privacy issues to their constituents. Being there when the legislature unanimously adopted the legislation was one of the most remarkable moments in my life.”

But the new legislation wasn’t perfect.  Harrison notes that Mactaggart and CCP came back to him in 2019 to help protect the original legislation against efforts by various business groups to water it down.  Because of the unique legislative process by which the CCPA was created, Mactaggart and his group had no ability to control future amendments and were thus constantly fighting off attempts to amend the law, including from major tech companies seeking to lessen its impact.  For that reason they turned to Harrison for help drafting and qualifying Proposition 24, the CPRA, which made important changes to their original initiative.

The new privacy law, which will go into effect in 2023, lets consumers limit businesses’ use of their sensitive personal information and to opt out of to the sharing of their data, which will mean users are no longer at the mercy of tech companies that have been using their personal data to create targeted ads.  The CPRA also creates a new state agency to enforce the law – a responsibility that had previously been lodged with the California Attorney General.

“These are complex issues and Alastair and the CCP are in the fight for the long term,” added Harrison.  According to Mactaggart, “We are at the beginning of a journey that will profoundly shape the fabric of our society by redefining who is in control of our most personal information and putting consumers back in charge of their own data.”

Robin Johansen and Tom Willis to speak at MLI Symposium

Robin Johansen and Tom Willis of Olson Remcho will be speakers at the MLI Symposium 2020 in San Francisco on Friday, March 6, 2020. They will take part in the Voting Rights Litigation and Strategy session from 10:30am-12pm. For more information or to register for this event, please visit here.

Media Covers Announcement of Olson Remcho: “Political Firms Merge to Create Powerhouse”

The announcement of the merger of Olson, Hagel & Fishburn and Remcho, Johansen & Purcell on December 3, 2019 garnered extensive coverage in the California press.

Carla Marinucci of Politico’s California Playbook noted “Two of California’s powerhouse legal firms announced Tuesday they’ll merge in 2020, forming a new firm that will represent a host of major political figures and entities including the governor, Assembly speaker, the Senate president pro tempore, the California Democratic Party, dozens of labor organizations and several members of the California Congressional delegation.” Read more

Two of California’s powerhouse legal firms announced they’ll merge in 2020, forming a new firm that will represent a host of major political figures.

Leading California Political Law Firms Merge to Form Olson Remcho

December 3, 2019, Sacramento and Oakland, CA – California’s two leading political and government law firms – Olson, Hagel & Fishburn (“OHF”) and Remcho, Johansen & Purcell (“RJP”) – announced today that they are merging on January 1, 2020 to form the new law firm of Olson Remcho LLP. Read more

We believe that the new firm will be a leader in California law and politics for years to come. - Lance Olson