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Questions and Answers About Using the “Pamphlet Method” and Email Method To Form and Fund Citizen Associations To Watch Over Business Sectors and Government Institutions

WHAT IS A CITIZEN ASSOCIATION?
“Citizen association” is the name Democracy Watch uses to describe groups organized using the Citizen Utility Board (CUB) “pamphlet method”. A CUB is an independent, non-profit, organization of residential utility ratepayers. CUBs exist in four states in the U.S., and the first CUB was organized in Wisconsin in 1979.

CUBs advocate for fair telephone, electric, gas and water rates and sensible energy policies before regulators, the government and the courts. Individual CUBs can be set up for each utility or one CUB can be set up to advocate for some or all utility ratepayers together. The CUB “pamphlet method” (and, today, emails can also be used) can be used to establish and maintain citizen associations to watch over a wide variety of business sectors and government institutions.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CUBs AND OTHER GROUPS?
CUBs are created by a law passed by the government or by an order of a utility regulatory commission. The key to CUBs is the right (by law or order) to enclose a pamphlet once or twice each year in the billing envelopes that are sent to households by utility companies. Usually, the government or commission provides funding (a grant or loan) to the CUB to print the first pamphlet. The pamphlet informs consumers about the CUB and invites them to join for a nominal annual membership fee ($30-40).

Alternatively, government institutions or businesses can volunteer to enclose the pamphlet, and as long as enough institutions or businesses companies volunteer enough individuals would receive the pamphlet to make the citizen association viable.

“Piggybacking” the CUB pamphlet with the utility bills is an effective way to reach all individual ratepayers at little or no cost to government or the utilities. About four percent of consumers usually join a CUB. For example, the first pamphlet for Illinois CUB was sent out in 1983 in utility bill envelopes in that state, and within six months it had 170,000 members and an annual budget of about $2 million.

According to a national survey, 64% of Canadians support the creation of CUB-like groups in Canada using the pamphlet method, while only 27% oppose it.

In addition, a national coalition made up of 31 citizen groups with a total membership of 3.5 million Canadians supports the creation of CUB-like groups in Canada.

WHAT HAVE CUBs DONE AND WHAT COULD CITIZEN ASSOCIATIONS DO?
Every year, utility companies spend millions to advocate for higher utility rates. Ironically, the cost of the utilities’ advocacy is passed on to consumers through their utility bills. CUBs give ratepayers a way to fight back. By pooling the resources and funding of ratepayers, CUBs allow ratepayers hire their own professional staff of lawyers, lobbyists, and organizers to launch effective challenges to unfair rate hikes.

For example, Illinois CUB has saved ratepayers more than $20 billion over the years. CUBs also undertake extensive, ongoing consumer education programs.

Citizen associations formed in Canada using the CUB “pamphlet/email method” would do similar activities as the CUBs have in the U.S. for each sector they are formed to watch over.

HOW ARE CUBs FUNDED? and WHO CONTROLS CUBs?
Ratepayers who join a CUB control the group through the election of regional delegates and its board of directors. The board hires the CUB’s professional staff and determines the group’s policies. CUBs are democratic organizations. CUBs are funded by voluntary contributions from ratepayers. CUBs do not receive any ongoing funding from government or utilities.

Citizen associations formed in Canada using the CUB “pamphlet/email method” could have the same democratic structure. Another possibility is that a government could order by law that a pamphlet be enclosed in government mailings and an email notice sent by government institutions (or a pamphlet enclosed in the mailings of a specific business sector, and an email notice sent by businesses in the sector) and the pamphlet/email could invite people only to donate to a fund to which existing citizen groups could apply for funding.

WHERE CAN THE CUB “PAMPHLET METHOD” BE USED IN CANADA?
The CUB “pamphlet/email method” can be used to create citizen associations for a variety of government institutions and business sectors, as follows (NOTE: government institutions or businesses can volunteer to enclose the pamphlet or, in addition to requiring a pamphlet to be mailed out, governments can require government institutions and/or businesses to include a notice about a citizen association in emails they send out to indviduals and customers):

  • the federal or any provincial government could send out an email and include a pamphlet in tax return mailings, driver license and other license renewal notice mailing, and social assistance and pension cheque envelope mailings — the pamphlet would describe and either invite citizens to join a group to watch over government ethics, spending and services (especially health care and welfare) and voter rights and/or to donate to a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in these areas;
  • the federal government could require banks, trusts and life and health insurance companies (or they could volunteer) to send out an email to their customers and enclose a one-page pamphlet in their mailings to customers (bank statements, credit card bills, annual policy statements) — the pamphlet and email would descibe and invite individual customers to join a Financial Consumer Organization and/or to donate to a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in this sector;
  • the federal or Ontario government (or Ontario Securities Commission) could require a group of large, publicly traded corporations (or they could volunteer) to send out an email to their customers and enclose a one-page pamphlet in their mailings to individual shareholders (annual and biannual reports) — the pamphlet and email would describe and invite individual customers to join a Individual Investor Organization and/or to donate to a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in this sector;
  • the federal government or CRTC could require telephone and cable-TV companies (or they could volunteer) to send out an email to their customers and enclose a one-page pamphlet in their customer mailings (monthly billing envelopes) — the pamphlet and email would describe and invite customers to join a Telecommunications Consumer Organization and/or to donate to a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in this sector;
  • the federal government could require airlines (or they could volunteer) to send out an email to their customers and hand out a pamphlet to people boarding planes, and to enclose it in in-flight magazines and in mailings to frequent flyers — the pamphlet and email would describe and invite customers to join a Airline Passengers Organization and/or to donate to a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in this sector;
  • provincial governments could require energy and water utility companies (or they could volunteer) to send out an email to their customers and enclose a one-page pamphlet in their mailings to customers (monthly billing envelopes), and could require gas stations (or they could volunteer) to hand out a pamphlet to customers when they fill up — the pamphlet and email would describe and invite customers to join an energy and water and transportation sector watchdog group and/or to donate to a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in this sector;
  • the federal and provincial governments can require businesses that sell forestry products (wood or paper) to send out an email to their customers and hand out a pamphlet to customers — the pamphlet and email would describe and invite customers to join a forestry industry watchdog group and/or to donate to a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in this sector;
  • the federal and provincial governments can require businesses that sell metal products (produced from mined resources) to send out an email to their customers and hand out a pamphlet to customers — the pamphlet and email would describe and invite customers to join a mining industry watchdog group and/or to donate to a fund that a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in this sector; and
  • the federal and provincial governments can require businesses that sell food products (such as grocery stores) to send out an email to their customers and hand out a pamphlet to customers — the pamphlet and email would describe and invite customers to join a food industry watchdog group and/or to donate to a fund that a fund that is independent of government, and run by citizen groups, that will make grants to citizen groups that do research, education or advocacy in this sector.

For more details, go to Democracy Watch’s Citizen Association Campaign