Thursday, July 06, 2006

How Low Can They Go? Homeless Hawking Petitions

In a nice little bit of investigative journalism--or maybe they just got curious as they watched the process--the Portland Mercury has identified the latest indignity to the signature gathering process--paying the homeless by the signature:
"Andrew"--a nice kid, about 20, down on his luck and stranded in Portland for a couple of days--said he was approached yesterday and told that if he could gather enough signatures, he could make $15 for every two completed signature sheets he turned in. Unless he was lying, this is a crystal clear violation of Measure 26, which voters passed to make sure that signature gatherers would only get paid by the hour. In the years since M26 (overwhelmingly) passed, firms have found ways around following the law--this year they appear to be openly flouting it due to the state's unwillingness/inability (depending on who you talk to) to investigate and enforce the law.

Andrew was carrying two petitions--to elect Oregon Supreme Court justices by district and either term limits or a state spending cap. After two days of carrying these petitions and gathering signatures, he was only able to describe the initiatives as "the Supreme Court one and the legislature one."

He seemed well meaning, but he revealed the main problem with payment per signature--the only thing that matters is quantity, not validity or legality. He admitted to offering people cans of soda in return for their signatures, and told signers it didn't matter if they'd already signed it. Plus, he estimated, he had signatures from at least 20 convicted felons. (That's actually not illegal in Oregon, but Andrew believed it was and took pride in not caring.)
Since we're keeping an eye on fabricating anus Don McIntire, I should mention he's a petitioner for the TABOR initiative "Andrew" appeared to have been hawking. I cannot say that McIntire is behind the ploy, or even knows about it, since as The Merc points out, the process has become a mess of contractors and subcontractors, and subs of that. If we're not going to blame the NAACP for a guy who was creating fake voter registrations in exchange for crack, we can start with the presumption that this may just be a case of overzealousness from someone who was willing to sublet their petition sheets.

While he doesn't necessarily get the blame, as Chief Petitioner McIntire would be responsible for any judgements and/or fines resulting from trangressions. And if the exchange with the Merc reporter is to be believed, that's exactly what they are--obvious transgressions. You'd think with his liability for such shenanigans, McIntire and the other CP's would be careful to keep their campaigns free of illegality. But since there's no investigatory arm of the Secretary of State to monitor gathering--and there's no penalty to the initiative itself, just the CP's--why should he bother?

Frankly, the more I read about this kind of nonsense--which in my opinion not only exploits homeless people who will do just about anything for a buck, but severely hampers the ability of citizens to get an informed view about what they're signing--the less angry I am at prevaricating rectums like McIntire, and more angry at the current state of ethical enforcement in Oregon. Although not tasked with petition oversight per se, the state ethics director just bugged out for Nevada, where they spend twice as much on ethics enforcement. OK, maybe Nevada's gaming industry offers a slightly larger opportunity for fraud and graft (cough), but it's clear that our ability to promise a clean electoral process is only as good as our ability to enforce the laws on the books. In Portland, keeping track of Emilie Boyles' spending in the recent commissioner elections proved so taxing to Susan Francois in the elections office that SHE decided to leave as well. And be a nun! Talk about running for sanctuary...literally!

So what's it going to be, Salem? Specifically you, Bill Bradbury: what's the response to an initiative system spiraling out of effective control? If we can't get a handle on violations of the law as blatant as this, maybe I'll recruit some guys at Central Concern for my new petition, with a name they can't remember and a purpose for which they can't explain...recalling secretaries, or something.