A common criticism of direct democracy is that it encourages “piecemeal policymaking” by addressing a single issue without considering the larger context, such as how a new program might affect a state’s overall budget. When irresponsible sponsors do not concern themselves with how their proposals will be funded, they can tempt voters with something-for-nothing initiatives. Lawmakers must then attempt to reconcile their budget with the one approved by voters: “The legislature and the voters each legislate. They are part of the same branch of government. But these two halves of the branch are not linked together in any meaningful way” (Mathews and Paul 2010, 170). Just as parties help bridge gaps in American government created by the separation of powers and federalism (Sabato and Larson 2002), they could also link legislative and voter-approved policy.
Securing an endorsement would likely require sponsors to consult with parties during the earliest stages of an initiative campaign. Any sponsor who waited until after signature collection began, when it would be too late to amend the initiative, would risk writing a proposal that no party could support. While sponsors would not be inclined to welcome parties’ intervention in the drafting process, there would be a number of strong incentives for them to compromise and negotiate with parties in order to secure their endorsements. First, contacting parties at the beginning of an initiative campaign would give sponsors an early indication of how receptive voters might be to their idea. If the sponsors of a pro-environment measure, for example, were unable to negotiate a version acceptable to the Green Party, they might question whether their proposal would be acceptable to environmentalists in general. Without early commitments from key groups of expected supporters, sponsors might reconsider continuing a costly and potentially unsuccessful campaign. Parties’ early involvement would also assist in the discovery of omissions or loopholes. Once adopted into law, drafting errors can lead to unintended consequences, misinterpretation by governmental agencies, or court challenges by opponents (Center for Governmental Studies 2008). Most importantly, parties would essentially become co-sponsors of their endorsed proposals. They would obviously hope to see these initiatives eventually adopted by voters, and would likely encourage their members to support the proposals’ campaigns. Members would likely sign ballot-qualification petitions and financially support the campaigns, and might even volunteer as signature gatherers. As discussed above, a party’s members would also be much more likely to vote for the initiatives it endorsed.
The most desirable endorsements for initiative sponsors to secure would be those of the two major parties since they represent the largest segment of voters. Even though sponsors would be negotiating with the parties’ state central committees and not their legislative delegations, a close relationship exists between the two. In California, for example, Democrats and Republicans elected to the state legislature automatically become members of their respective party’s state central committee. Each committee’s positions on initiatives are determined by its Executive Board, which includes two members selected from each legislative chamber (California Democratic Party 2010; California Republican Party 2011). It seems reasonable to assume that the concessions required of a sponsor by a party’s central committee in order to receive its endorsement would be consistent with the policy agenda of the party’s legislative delegation. Rather than a system where legislators are left to reconcile their own policy with voter-approved policy after an initiative election, political parties would link these two halves of the legislative branch at every stage of the initiative process.