Tuesday, June 27, 2006

M26 petitioners go after alleged initiative petition violaters

[Update:For some unknown reason, the black hole that is Blogger won't publish the hyperlink correctly for the website representing initiatives 8 & 37. Please visit www.fairelections.net to view that site.]

The chief petitioners behind Oregon's Measure 26 law (which bans paying petition signature gatherers by the signature) held a press conference this morning. The conference was held to call for the Oregon Secretary of State's Office to investigate evidence of Measure 26 violations by nine of the currently circulating initiatives. The two petitioners that held the conference were Ellen Lowe and Tim Nesbitt. Both spoke at the conference.

Ted Blazack of Democracy Resources stood alongside Nesbitt and Lowe as a circulator of Measure 26 when it was an initiative.

Nesbitt says that they aren't interested in shutting down the initiative drives. He says the Secretary of State should conduct "timely investigations" and levy the requisite penalties of $100 per signature for those sheets gathered in violation of M26.

The allegations of wrongdoing are being made against:

Initiative #6: TABOR

Initiative #8 and #37: Campaign Finance

Initiative #14: Tax Reduction

Initiative #23: Insurance companies using credit ratings

Initiative #24: Judicial elections by geography

Initiative #39: Term limits

Initiative #57: Emminent domain

Marijuana law change: Citizens for a Safer Portland

Some of the initiatives are using Arno Political Consulting, whose employee manual states that they give pay incentives if larger numbers of signatures are gathered. Arno is working with initiatives 6, 39, 14, 23 and 24.

The complaints against all the intiatives by the M26 petitioners in fact appear to have their genesis in the bonus structure set up by the various signature gathering companies and the subcontractors they use. Information provided by Lowe and Nesbitt include testimony by signature gatherers themselves:

Sig. gatherer: Like, for the rest of his employees I think he is paying by signatures but he says it was approved by the state. He's got it if you get this many signatures a week you get paid this hourly rate. If you get this many a week, you get this hourly wage.

And its that immediate week. So if you came in with 200 signatures, he would pay you X amount per hour for hour for that week.

According to this testimony, the more signatures a person brings in, the more they are paid. Similar testimonials are provided throughout the press kit provided by the M26 petitioners.

Among those attending the press conference was attorney and activist Dan Meek. Meek is one of the main backers of Initiatives 8 and 37 having to do with campaign finance reform. Meek spoke up after the press conference to Koin News'Mike Donahue, saying he thinks the allegations against his particular effort are baseless. And in typical Meek style, made sure he got his statements on camera. I'll be checking in this evening to see if Meek made it into Donahue's report on channel six.

I recorded Meek telling Mike Donahue that the reason for the claims is Our Oregon's stance against his initiatives (The press conference was held in the Our Oregon offices). I was informed however that Our Oregon just lent the space and wasn't directly involved in the press conference. Meek further alleged that Our Oregon was "politically opposed" to every one of the initiatives on the alleged violations list. (I'll be curious if Donahue uses that quote and does the requisite research) However Our Oregon isn't opposing the marijuana intiative. In fact I can find nothing about it at all on their site.

Further, the only intiatives that Our Oregon seems to be actively working against are #6 and #14. Some of the others get small mentions on the website, but don't look to have any concerted focus by Our Oregon against them.

Meek says that they're using a company called Petitioning.Net(which has a really horribly managed URL...note it when you click on it). I'm still trying to reach someone from that organization to discuss their pay practices.

It would appear that even if the Secretary of State's office does investigate these violations, there is very incentive even with punitive enforcement to follow the law. The fines can add up, certainly. But given the money schemes and access many of these initiative backers have--its unlikely to be much of a deterrant. Nesbitt says that the Secretary of State won't say that he'll toss out valid signatures even if they're gathered illegally.