Initiative Reform: Stopping the Mercenaries, while Protecting the Grassroots

The Associated Press has a good roundup of the efforts to reform Oregon's intiative system.

Under the bill, paid signature-gatherers would have to register and complete training before they could collect signatures on initiatives. Further, the bill would require chief petitioners to maintain payroll records for state review to make sure they are not violating the state's ban on the "bounty" system of paying petition carriers by the signature. ...

Under the bill, paid petition circulators would have to register with the secretary of state, who must issue them photo-badges within two days. They would have to undergo training, which would be provided in the form of a video.

People convicted of forgery, fraud or identity theft within the past five years could not become petition circulators.

In addition, prospective petitioners would have to gather 1,000 signatures, up from 25, to request an official measure summary known as a ballot title. Sponsors often submit measures with numerous ballot titles, because some voters read only those before deciding on a measure.

And, of course, as Kari Chisholm pointed out last month - the legislation makes it easier for grassroots organizations to collect signatures, since petitions will be able to be distributed online.

House Bill 2082-A has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate. Secretary of State Bill Bradbury:

Bradbury, in an interview, said Oregon's initiative system was designed to give average citizens the chance to band together to enact laws directly when the Legislature, acting at the behest of special interests, refuses to act.

That has changed in recent years, and the bill's provisions are needed to prevent problems with fraud and forgery that have occurred in past initiative campaigns, the Democratic secretary of state said.

"What really rubs me the wrong way is that there are people with a lot of money who basically see the initiative process as a way to promote their ideas in the states," he said. "It's become incredibly money driven with incentive for fraud, not a grass roots process."

Of course, that hasn't stopped Kevin Mannix - who has a bunch of intiatives on the street right now:

For weeks now, paid petition carriers have been collecting signatures for a pair of get-tough-on-crime measures Salem Republican Kevin Mannix is hoping to place before Oregon voters in November 2008.

The proposed initiatives, to require tougher penalties for property crimes and to earmark a portion of state lottery profits to crime-fighting programs, are being bankrolled largely by Mannix's longtime political patron, wealthy Nevada businessman Loren Parks.

Read the rest. Discuss.

  • Eric J. (unverified)

    We should add one more item: If an issue gets voted down, it can not be brought up in any form (original or altered) for two to three election cycles. This is to combat those parasites like the OCA that kept stuffing garbage on the ballot very two years even though the public said NO. This will force those who do not listen to listen to the public. When the public says NO, we mean it. leave it alone and go to something else.

  • Rose (unverified)

    What really rubs me the wrong way is that there are public employee unions with a lot of money who basically see the initiative process as a detriment to their union, jobs, salaries and benefits. This State has become incredibly union money driven with Bradbury and other Democrats beholden to public employees, not a grass roots process.

  • (Show?)

    I disagree, I don't see the state as being union money driven, nor do I see Bradbury or the other Democrats as beholden to public employees. And no, I don't belong to a union, never have. No one in my immediate family ever has. Going out a bit further, I know of only one who has ever been a member of a union -- my grandfather when he worked at GM. So I'm not a member of a union family trying to protect my own.

  • Rose (unverified)

    It doesn't matter what you "see" Jenni. The state is without question public employee union driven.

    If you haven't picked up on that very obvious reality, you are either not paying attention enough or desire to "feel" otherwise in order pretend Kulongoski, Bradbury and other Democrats have loftier motives than beholden to public employees.

    How can anyone, with the straight face say they are not.
    Union money fills all of their campaign coffers, their staff offices are filled with former union bosses and many of their battles are orchestrated by union lobbyists.
    You don't have to belong to a union to recognize reality. Why the bit about no union ties? Is that supposed to add credibility to your tremendous blind spot?

    The public employee unions, with their money, lobbyists and organizations support every single democrat, support every liberal policy they come up with, support every tax increase and oppose every conservative candidate and intiative. You don't "see" it? Where are you looking? Tell me, if you were shown, to your complete satisfaction that you have been blind, would you have a problem with such influences dominated the State? I can only imagine that you don't currently "see" it because you don't have a problem with big public employee union money and interests helping your politicans dominate policy making. In stark contrast, you're likely outraged with any money helping any issue you disagree with.

  • (Show?)

    Why the bit about no union ties?

    Because usually anytime someone defends the unions they're automatically labeled as just protecting their own. As such, regular posters like myself often times will state right up front what our connections are/aren't. Saves some time and labeling.

    I'm not blind. I've seen the labor unions disagree with policies plenty of times. I've seen them very unhappy with candidates and elected officials, including Kulongoski.

    I've seen policies pass that are not the outcome the unions want to see.

    Yes, there are union people who have become staffers for many of our elected officials. That isn't surprising, and it has nothing to do with union favortism. There are not many jobs available in politics that are full-time beyond the election season. Many people interested and involved in politics end up working for the unions. So when positions come up in offices like the governor's, often times the most qualified people have worked, or are working for, unions. Until the DNC started hiring staff in every state, there just weren't that many political jobs that lasted beyond a few months unless you went to work for a union.

    The public employee unions, with their money, lobbyists and organizations support every single democrat, support every liberal policy they come up with, support every tax increase and oppose every conservative candidate and intiative.

    I can disprove this assertion right away. This is a falsehood that has been repeated so many times that people believe it to be true.

    I've seen them not only support, but endorse, conservatives. Just to name a few: Karen Minnis, Dennis Richardson, Debi Farr, Vicki Berger, Billy Dalto, Wayne Scott, John Lim, Linda Flores, and Patti Smith.

    In the 2006 election, in 25 of the 60 House seats Oregon AFSCME endorsed a Republican. In 4 cases they recommended no action. So 44.6% of the House races they recommended voting for a Republican.

  • (Show?)

    Hey Kari, are there still "protecting the commons" plans in the works and do they include ways to discourage sock puppetry?

  • TR (unverified)

    It seems to me most of the Mercenaries reside in the legislature wanting to dictate to and exercise control over the populous. Obviously they only represent their own ideology and not that of the electorate and the public they claim to represent. If an issue gets voted in as an initiative by the people, it should not be tinkered with by the legislature for two to three election cycles. If new or increased taxes are voted down, similar new or increased taxes should not be brought up in any form again for those same two to three election cycles

  • (Show?)

    Rose wrote:

    The public employee unions, with their money, lobbyists and organizations support every single democrat, support every liberal policy they come up with, support every tax increase and oppose every conservative candidate and intiative.

    Even if that were true, which it's not, what's wrong with it?

    Is there something inherently wrong with regular people, organizing themselves, and fighting for their vision of our society?

    I've argued pretty strenuously here against right-wing groups like the Oregon Family Council and FreedomWorks, but I've never argued against their right to exist.

    (And don't gimme the "they're doing it with public dollars" claptrap. Political work is done by private and voluntary donations from people's paychecks. The only "public money" involved is related to the paycheck processing, like the United Way drive.)

    [And yes, Doretta, we're working on that stuff. Slowly, but surely.]

  • Orygunner (unverified)

    I've said it before, I'll say it again. The initiative system needs to be eliminated. It was an interesting experiment, but a (mostly) failed one.

    And I am neither a union member nor a liberal/progressive/Democrat/leftist of any kind.

    As for the public employees unions running the state, give me a freakin' break. It's obviously the Masons (joke, ha ha).

    [Kari, why not a forum with registered users rather than the blog/comment format?]

  • (Show?)

    Here is a statement below (under the line) by Crime Victims United, which indicates why this bill is opposed by them and by such progressive groups as OSPIRG and the Pacific Green Party. Note that the bill, as passed by the House, would not in fact allow signature sheets to be circulated online, as some have claimed, any more than they can now. The bill would continue to require all signature sheets to be printed out double-sided. That is what disqualifies a large percentage of sheets that people print out and then mail into the chief petitioners. For months I have suggested eliminating the two-sided requirement.


    HB 2082 would impair the initiative and referendum processes and make it more difficult for grassroots organizations to qualify measures for the ballot.

    This bill was crafted behind closed doors. Many groups asked for a working group to discuss its complex provisions, but the committee declined.

    HB 2082 is opposed by a wide range of groups, from OSPIRG on the "left" to Oregonians in Action on the "right." Why? Because HB 2082 seeks to create a monopoly on law-making for the Legislature only. Here are just a few of its notable features:

    Requiring that All Signature Sheets be Sorted by Name of Circulator

    Incredibly, Section 11 of HB 2082 requires that all signature sheets on initiatives and referenda be sorted by the name of the circulator when turned in to the Secretary of State. There is utterly no reason for this, but it will add hundreds of hours to the process of preparing sheets for submittal. HB 2082 would require such sorting even for the "one signature" sheets sent in by those who download and fill out the "one signature" electronic template. This would require chief petitioners to alphabetize literally tens of thousands of names.

    We have circulated our initiatives with hundreds of volunteers and have received tens of thousands of signature sheets back in the mail. HB 2082 literally requires that we alphabetize all of these sheets, for no reason at all.

    Changing "signed in the presence of" to "witnessed the signing"

    In many places, HB 2082 changes the attestation of the circulator from the fact that the voter signed the petition in her presence to the fact that she "witnessed the signing." This would preclude anyone from the normal practice of passing around a signature sheet at a meeting, unless the circulator physically accompanies the sheet from person to person and actually sees the voter's ink flow onto the paper.

        It is probably unlawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as it precludes any vision-impaired person from gathering signatures.

    Many states have no circulator requirements at all, including Washington. There, a signature sheet is perfectly valid, whether or not the circulator signs it. So why do we need this new draconian requirement, which may spawn squads of opponents armed with video cameras.

    Mandatory Training and Registration of Circulators

    Section 2 requires all paid circulators to register with the Secretary of State and complete an undefined training program on an undefined schedule. The bill does not require that the Secretary of State offer the training on any schedule. It could be offered as few times as he desires. The training would likely consist of a bewildering mosaic of laws and rules, followed by emphasis on the prospect for civil and criminal prosecution for any violation of them.

    If this is a good idea, then we should have mandatory registration and training for legislative aides and for lobbyists. After all, a petition circulator is a lobbyist to the people for the measure she is carrying.

    Also, this provision will very likely draw a successful lawsuit. The United States Supreme Court in 1999 overturned on First Amendment grounds a Colorado statute that required circulators to register with the State and carry ID badges.

    Punishing Chief Petitioners for Faulty Criminal Histories

    Section 2 disqualifies from petition circulation anyone convicted of identity-type crimes within the past 5 years.

    This is too short; it should be a lifetime ban.

    It also throws out all signatures collected by such a person. First, this disenfranchises innocent voters who signed the petition. Second, there is no reliable means available to chief petitioners to determine whether a prospective circulator has such a conviction.

    Requiring Collection of Signatures without a Ballot Title

    HB 2082 requires that the chief petitioners collect the first 1,000 valid signatures on every measure with a blank signature sheet that has no ballot title on it. In fact, the blank signature sheet would contain absolutely nothing that even identifies the subject matter of the petition! Who would sign such a sheet? Opponents would no doubt say, "Don't sign any sheet, unless it states on it what the petition is about." Yes, HB 2082 would remove everything about the measure from the signature sheet!

    Requiring 1,000 Signatures on Prospective Petitions

    As OSPIRG has stated, this increase in the number of signatures on a prospective petition from 25 to 1,000 will "create a significant barrier for true grassroots efforts to get started."

    Faulty Official Templates

    Here, supporters claim that HB 2082 will allow the Secretary of State to produce a one-sided electronic template for the signature of a single individual. That is not the case. HB 2082 makes all templates "subject to the requirements of ORS 250.045," which requires both a "cover" and a "reverse side" for the signature sheet. This defeats the whole purpose of the "one-signature sheet."

    Section 3 also requires that each petition be carried in more than one color, thus causing voter confusion.

    The bill is not clear on whether the templates can be photocopied, so the Secretary of State may have to print hundreds of thousands of sheets at state expense.

    Extensive Reports and "Presumption of Violation"

    Section 5 requires that all paid petitioning efforts make extensive reports to the Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Labor Commissioner, including contracts, manuals, payroll records, records showing amount and purpose of each payment to contractors, and even copies of the completed signature sheets. If all info is not provided, "there is a rebuttable presumption that a violation of [pay-per-signature ban] has occurred" and all circulation is thereafter banned for the chief petitioner. It allows the Secretary of State to demand the completed signature sheets at any time.

    As OSPIRG states, this will place a significant administrative burden on grass-roots efforts, while not on those of professional firms in the business of gathering signatures.

    Discriminatory Reporting Requirements

    Section 13 requires chief petitioners to do electronic reporting of contributions and expenditures every 7 days for a period of 18 weeks, starting 6 weeks prior to primary election date. This is 3 times longer for 7-day reporting than is required for any candidate committee or other political committee.

    This is very highly discriminatory against those who wish to use the initiate process, particularly because organized opponents of petitions or measures are not required to report anything about their contributions and expenditures devoted to discouraging signatures. Nor are they required to report anything about their contributions and expenditures against the measure itself, until it "becomes a measure" 3 months prior to the November election. This is a fundamentally unfair and biased reporting system, which HB 2082 would make worse.

  • (Show?)

    I'd been told it was already the case that you were supposed to be there with the signature sheet -- that it wasn't to be passed around the room without you there with it.

    That's why people were trying to find witnesses who saw this happen at churches when M36 was put on the ballot.

  • (Show?)

    I disagree, I don't see the state as being union money driven, nor do I see Bradbury or the other Democrats as beholden to public employees.


    Ahem. Excuse me. I was having a hard time swallowing something.

    I think it's fair to say that D's are no more beholden to public employees unions than R's are to large trade associations and their members, such as big timber, the restaurant association, etc.

    Both sides have their funding partners, and neither side gets too crosswise with those partners.

    One big difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the Republicans are, by-in-large, are much more reliant on out of state donors than are Democrats.

  • (Show?)

    Jenni, the statute says: "The circulator shall certify on each signature sheet of the initiative or referendum petition that the individuals signed the sheet in the presence of the circulator and that the circulator believes each individual is an elector."

    The SoS has an administrative rule requiring "witnessing," but that rule would probably be determined by the courts to be invalid, if it were ever enforced, because the statute is clearly contrary to the rule.

    <h2>Thus, changing the statute from "in the presence of" to "witness" is a significant change.</h2>
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