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Lawmaker Turns to Crowdsourcing to Create Legislation

Assemblyman Mike Gatto speaks at a podium.
Rich Pedroncelli / AP
Assemblyman Mike Gatto speaks at a podium.

Often, when groups want to weigh in on the lawmaking process, they’ll hold rallies at the Capitol. Crowds of people will march, chant and wave signs trying to draw lawmakers’ attention. But not everyone who wants to be heard can make it to the Capitol.

That’s where crowd sourcing comes in. You may familiar with the concept. A large group of people, generally through the Internet, gets together and offers up ideas, money, services, whatever is needed, to meet a goal. Wikipedia is a good example. Anyone can edit and contribute to the online encyclopedia.

Now, California Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto is experimenting with that concept to create legislation.


“I take the position that special interests drive bills in Sacramento too much. But at that same time, there are lots of problems with direct democracy,” he says. “So we thought this was a wonderfully happy medium, pun intended, for the public to get involved, to directly affect a bill.”

Gatto’s idea was to choose a topic and then let anyone who wanted weigh in on creating legislation around that topic. Being a newcomer to wiki-bills, Gatto wanted to choose something that was relatable, yet not too inflammatory.

“As I was thinking about it, the old Ben Franklin maxim came into my head,” he says, “which is, the two things that everybody will have an experience with in their life is death and taxes.”

A screen grab of Assemblyman Mike Gatto's Wiki bill.
Capital Public Radio
A screen grab of Assemblyman Mike Gatto's Wiki bill.

Full Text Of Mike Gatto's Probate Draft Legislation

Gatto opted to stay away from taxes. Instead he decided to take on the state’s probate code, which regulates wills. People could log onto the wiki-page his office created and add or edit language to revise the code. Gatto pledged to introduce whatever bill the crowd came up with. He is now considering two proposals that came out of the experiment.


UC Davis political science professor Amber Boydstun says this is a win-win for Gatto.

“He’s able to get people involved and he’s able to give his constituency a sense of ownership over the process,” she says. “And, at the end of the day, he’s not responsible for the legislation itself. The Assembly will vote the way it votes.”

Examples Of Government Crowdsourcing In Other Countries:

Voters in Finland are invited to create new laws through an Open Ministry platform. If more than 30,000 citizens back the proposal, the Finnish parliament is forced to vote on it.

The Obama Administration invited citizens to create petitions online. Response from the government is required if it receives 100,000 signatures within 30 days. An Open Government Initiative also encourages agencies to become more transparent and to ask the public for ideas and suggestions.

In 2011 and 2012, the government in Iceland invited citizens to participate in its constitution reform process. Input from 1,000 people were summarized into a mind map, which was later used in the reform process.

Last year, a senator introduced the Philippine Crowdsourcing Act, which invited the online community to be part of the legislative process.

Source: Crowdsourcing for Democracy: A New Era in Policy-Making

But while the concept may have promise, the wiki-page shows only about 12 people made contributions to the bill. Tim Bonnemann is the founder and CEO of Intellitics, a company that helps organizations connect and interact with people through social media. He’s been observing Gatto’s wiki-bill process and says there are a few flaws that need to be worked out. For instance, he says there should have been more outreach and guidance.

“They also started at the most difficult part, which is writing legislative copy,” he says. “When maybe they should have invited people more to share stories and identify challenges and develop solutions together.”

But as for keeping special interests out of the mix, Bonnemann says wiki-bills might actually help.

“In general, the more public, the more transparent the process is overall, the more difficult it becomes for people to slip things in unnoticed,” he says.

Gatto is already looking toward his next wiki-bill effort. He says he may pick more than one topics, or go with something more timely to help spur involvement.

“We picked a stodgy topic the first year and we’ll see how it goes,” he says. “But, maybe we do need some of the good old fashioned inflammatory topics that would really get people excited about this.”

And he says he shouldn’t be the only lawmaker experimenting on the crowd sourcing front. He says every member of the legislature should introduce at least one wiki-bill a year.

Gatto is considering two items that were suggested by Wiki-bill participants (in bold):


(a) The court may, on its own motion or on request of a

personal representative, guardian, conservator, trustee, or other

interested person, appoint a guardian ad litem at any stage of a

proceeding under this code to represent the interest of any of the

following persons, if the court determines that representation of the

interest otherwise would be inadequate:

(1) A minor.

(2) An incapacitated person.

(3) An unborn person.

(4) An unascertained person.

(5) A person whose identity or address is unknown.

(6) A designated class of persons who are not ascertained or are

not in being.

(7) A nonhuman animal who is either an estate asset or part of a trust res.


Guest on March 7 said: The status of animals is inherently more than property as evidenced by animals being able to be beneficiaries of trusts pursuant to legislation. It makes sense, therefore, that when needed, a guardian ad litem could be appointed for them.

PROBATE CODE SECTION 15403. Modification or termination of irrevocable trust by all beneficiaries

(a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), if all beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust consent, they may compel modification or termination of the trust upon petition to the court.

(b) If the continuance of the trust is necessary to carry out a material purpose of the trust, the trust cannot be modified or terminated unless the court, in its discretion, determines that the reason for doing so under the circumstances outweighs the interest in accomplishing a material purpose of the trust. Under this section the court does not have discretion to permit termination of a trust that is subject to a valid restraint on transfer of the beneficiary's interest as provided in Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 15300).

‍‍‍(c) This section does not apply to charitable trusts.


Guest on March 4 said: Where parties attempt to modify the specific purpose of a charitable trust they should be limited to the cy pres doctrine. This sentiment accords with the most recent Restatement of Trust Law (See Rest.3d Trusts § 65, cmt. g.) It is technically impossible to have all beneficiaries consent because by definition the beneficiaries of a charitable trust are an unspecified class of individuals. Moreover, as the AG represents the "public's interest" in all charitable trusts, the AG could attempt to consent on behalf of all beneficiaries (see Boys and Girls Club of Petaluma v. Walsh (App. 1 Dist. 2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 1049, 1059 fn7.) There the "Attorney General stated that he represents the People of the State of California, the ultimate beneficiaries of charity, and that he thereby gave all beneficiaries, named and unnamed, representation in the modification proceeding." This opens the door for the AG, a political entity, to single handedly change the purpose of a charitable trust with which it disagrees.

Guest on March 4 said: This seems like a good fix. The involvement of The Att G. in such a case can't be what was intended here.