Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Oregonian shovels BS our way--and it stinks

I read through yesterday's Oregon writeup on the M26 petioners press conference and wondered if the writer and I had been to the same event.

The piece starts out badly and goes downhill in a hurry:

Our Oregon, a largely union-backed coalition of liberal groups, held a news conference in Portland to unveil the details of complaints it has filed against the sponsors of nine petitions. The group accused the sponsors of violating Measure 26, the 2002 state constitutional amendment that outlawed the practice of paying signature gatherers based on the number of signatures they obtain.

"The integrity of our initiative process is being threatened," said Tim Nesbitt, a former president of the Oregon AFL-CIO and one of the sponsors of Measure 26.

The press conference was held by the chief petioners of Measure 26. That was made clear by those who spoke and by the press kit each attendee received. Those same people are the ones that filed the complaints with the Secretary of State. Our Oregon facilitated the press conference--that was their role in its entirety, according to Tim Nesbitt (who I spoke with yesterday to clarify on this).

Is it too much to ask for the newspaper of record in this state to get the basic facts of a major news story correct?

The story isn't a complete mess. There are some tidbits that manage to be accurate:

Last week, John Lindback, director of the Elections Division in Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's office, warned the sponsors of initiative petitions to comply with Measure 26 and told them that they could be held responsible for the actions of their signature gatherers. He criticized Arno Political Consultants, a California company that is gathering signatures for several conservative-backed initiatives.

On Tuesday, Lindback released a letter from Steven Churchwell, a lawyer for Arno, who said the firm was discontinuing a bonus system that Lindback had questioned and would revise a portion of its employee handbook that Lindback had said could easily be interpreted as a pay-by-the-signature scheme.

Our Oregon's complaints probably will have little or no effect on the November ballot. Lindback said the investigation is likely to stretch beyond Nov. 7.

3 whole paragraphs with only one major fuckup! Woo-hoo!

The last paragraph should read "The Measure 26 chief petitioner's complaints probably will have..." Other than that, its excellent. The individuals using Arno--the entity that seems to be causing the greatest share of this dustup have been warned by the SOS. So claiming ignorance on this isn't going to fly.

Another bright spot:

In the four years since Measure 26 was approved by voters, one civil penalty has been imposed for violations. There are also potential criminal penalties for violations that have never been invoked. But Lindback said there are no provisions in Oregon law to remove a qualified initiative from the ballot regardless of the methods used to get it on the ballot.

This is an important point. There is very little in the way of punitive motivation for petitioners to follow this law. If they pay their workers by the signature--they can be fined. But as long as the signatures are valid they're still counted toward making it on the ballot.

The Oregonian piece then rolls down an inexplicable hill of disaster by capturing quotes from petitioners whose initiatives are a part of the complaint. As if getting a quote from Tim Trickey, who is under investigation with the SOS for possible nefarious conduct with signature gathering is an authoritative person from which to gather quotes. But nowhere is there any "on the street" investigation of the signature gatherers to determine if the complaints may have any validity.

How hard is it to schlep down to the Multnomah County Library or Pioneer Square to check on the signature gatherers? Jeez.