Mannix's signature gathering operation yields indictments

Carla Axtman

Once again, conservative signature gathering in Oregon can't seem to stay out of legal trouble. After years of Bill Sizemore and Kevin Mannix's antics, you'd think they'd learn.

Not so much.

Joint press release from Secretary of State Kate Brown and Attorney General John Kroger:

Jason M. Towery and Christine F. Gwin face a combined total of 6 counts of making a false statement in violation of elections law and 6 counts of identity theft.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown and Attorney General John Kroger today announced two initiative fraud indictments.

"I remain committed to cracking down on fraud and abuse in the initiative process. All chief petitioners and signature gatherers out there should be on notice. I have a no tolerance policy for fraud in Oregon's initiative system," said Secretary of State Brown.

"Initiative fraud is unacceptable," said Keith Dubanevich, Chief of Staff and Special Counsel to Attorney General Kroger. "Oregonians need to have complete confidence in the integrity of their elections."

So for which initiatives did Jason M. Towery and Christine F. Gwin gather signatures? According to the press release? They worked for Initiative Petition 13 (which is now Measure 73) and Initiative Petition 50 (which failed to make the ballot due to insufficient signatures). Both of these initiatives were circulated by VOTE Oregon LLC, which is owned by Kevin Mannix.

Incidentally, this isn't the first time a Mannix signature gathering operation has raised serious questions about integrity and signature forgery.

But hey, what's a little forgery and identity theft when you can astroturf initiatives that cost taxpayers millions of dollars?

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    Does this invalidate Measure 73?

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      I can't imagine why it should, if in fact the state has identified only six forged signatures. Subtract those six, and it probably still makes the ballot.

      It would be interesting to see what happens if a petition made it to the ballot with only a thousand signatures to spare, and then 1500 of them turned out to be forged -- but I gather that's not what we're looking at here.

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    I'm glad Kroger is pressing this issue. However, even though there is a ton of blame to be justifiably pointed at Sizemore and Mannix, I really don't see how they can be blamed when petitioners break the law. They can't control petitioners' behavior. Only if they condone it, cover it up, encourage it, or ignore it can you blame them - and that is not something I ever saw going on, nor has it ever been proven that it did go on.

    It's a shame that the far worse behavior of Sizemore and Mannix has never resulted in the sort of serious criminal prosecution that was warranted, but they have better lawyers and much more powerful political connections than their little peon petitioners do.

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      They can certainly vet their petitioners more carefully, Becky. There are a number of other of signature gathering operations in Oregon--but it seems like its only these guys who have consistent trouble with their signature gatherers running afoul of the law.

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        There are only 2 signature-gathering firms in Oregon. From what I have seen, VOTE OREGON is actually the best of the bunch in terms of both vetting and retaining employees and in terms of signature validity rate.

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          And in terms of having employees get into legal trouble..?

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            My understanding is that VOTE, LLC filed the complaint against these people. The Secretary of State acknowledged in their press release that they never would have caught these people had VOTE LLC not filed the complaint.

            So what are you accusing them of doing? And why did the fact that they filed the complaint themselves not make it into your coverage?

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              It's not in anybody's coverage of the story, that I can find and it's not in the press release sent out by AG Kroger/SOS Brown on Kroger's website:


              Further, Brown made no mention of VOTE LLC originating a complaint this morning on KPOJ, when she was on to discuss it.

              It's not in the Oregonian coverage:


              I'm saying that there's still a pretty serious problem with the way VOTE LLC (and the Measure 70 folks too, apparently) are vetting and hiring (or some other piece of the process) people to gather signatures. It's completely unacceptable to for there to be identity theft and signature fraud as part of this process.

              And it's not like this is a new problem. It ONGOING and frankly, it's BS.

              So what's going

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                "... it's not in the press release sent out by AG Kroger/SOS Brown on Kroger's website . . . Further, Brown made no mention of VOTE LLC originating a complaint this morning on KPOJ, when she was on to discuss it"

                I think that kind of says it all, doesn't it?

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                  That it's not in the press release or any of the other information I found on this from at least 3 sources--including the Oregonian, which you kindly cut out of your quote?

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    Mannix-Depressive strikes again. Maybe he is headed for the same fate as Sizemore.

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    On the plus side, they haven't beaten up anyone. At least as far as we know.

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    A climate of corruption. It doesn't take long for an employee to learn what value an employer places on conforming to laws and regulations. The investigation should reveal if these guys were going rogue or doing what was expected of them.

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    If I were you I would check with the SOS office before you start villifying my company.

    The reason why the SOS was able to catch these two circulators was because we turned them in and fully cooperated with the authorities. I just got a call from the SOS office thanking us for turning the circulators in and helping the SOS get these indictments.

    VOTE Oregon LLC is committed to cleaning up the process. We have made it clear to our circulators that we will not tolerate any malfeasance. You can be sure that in the future we will use Towery and Gwin as examples of what VOTE Oregon will do if we come across any suspected forgeries.

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      Thanks, Ross.

      Perhaps you could speak to what's going on with conservative signature gathering in Oregon that lends itself to this kind of thing? Other organizations don't appear to have the problems with their gatherers that your company and Sizemore have had.

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    First, these we two circulators out of 75 we hired. I am not sure there is a "problem". However, I believe we turned in three other ciruclators in June (can't remember for sure and don't have access to my computer at work right now).

    Second, we self report. I can't speak to anyone else's company and whether those companies have the same "problems" you allege my company has. For all we know, the other companies who have circulated in Oregon also have circulators who are being investigated, I don't know.

    But I would disagree that two out of 75 to 80 employees constitute a "problem", certainly not systemic. I am proud to have caught these forgeries and have turned in these circulators. We have a zero tolerance policy at VOTE Oregon, LLC, and our employees know it.

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      If other companies/organizations have employees under investigation/indictment, it seems like they'd be reported in the news, too. Over the last few years, I can't recall seeing a non-Mannix/Sizemore affiliated organization that's been in legal trouble for signature gathering. Can you? In fact, I can't think of a non-Mannix/Sizemore affiliated organization EVER having been in legal trouble with signature gathering.

      Why do you think that is?

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      Ross, it sounds like you are doing what you should to weed out the bad apples, and I'm pleased to see you correct the record.

      But I will take slight issue with the "two ain't bad," argument. Ballot measures have the capacity to exercise huge influence over the lives of Oregonians.

      These folks are being charged with fraud, a very serious charge. I would hope, as a citizen of the state, that we shoot higher than a margin of "only 4% fraudulent!" Again, I'm not criticizing your firm, just saying that with petition fraud, we need to have a zero-tolerance attitude.

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        Jeff - 6 signatures out of maybe 300,000 signatures gathered is not 4% fraudulent, it is 0.00008% fraudulent. And in this case, Ross turned these people in himself.

        I understand the need sometimes to cut things against a process that you may not agree with, particularly when it is being used by people you don't agree with. But can't we agree that 99.99992% legit ain't bad when the firm in question also addressed the other 0.00008% that was problemmatic?

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          Well, they sample, so it's more than that. But I'm really ignorant about the math here, so I'll back off. Just to say that fraud isn't something were you want to be pretty good.

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      This is somewhat reminiscent of ACORN'S registration drives. A few overzealous signature gatherers went kinda rouge and all hell broke loose. Even though the ACORN problem was vastly exaggerated, it caused the demise of the organization. It seems that the remedy for Vote Oregon's little problem should be comparable to the one ACORN suffered.

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    One final point.

    You allege that signature fraud is unique to "conservative" measures. I would disagree with that.

    Remember, Mickey Mouse, Ronald Reagan and Justin Timberlake (among others) signed the petition on Measure 75. Those were obviously forgeries.

    Remember, in 2002, two people were convicted of fraud on the petition that became Measure 26 - the union measure.

    The problem in the industry is that companies (regardless of where they land on the political spectrum) have been reticent to turn in their circulators when they suspect a forgery.

    VOTE Oregon LLC will turn in any circulator we suspect of breaking the law, we will do so without reservation, and we will fully cooperate with the authorities. Period.

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      Ayup. You are now in the same position as ACORN was in Nevada. We all remember how well ACORN was treated by Fox and the entire right wing blogosphere for pointing out irregularities perpetrated by part time employees to the Nevada election authorities.

      I hate when that happens.

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    How short are our memories?

    "Baggenstos was indicted on six counts of knowingly making false statements in violation of election laws and one count of aggravated identify theft. She is alleged to have falsely certified signatures of six people for Initiative Petition 70 who were deceased at the time. The initiative relates to using lottery funds for water, park and wildlife."

    I would consider petition 70 to be a "progressive" issue but would not hold it against the chief petitioners that two circulators (one of which was a manager and organizer for the contracted company,) acted badly.

    Carla you also misspeak when you assert this:

    "I can't think of a non-Mannix/Sizemore affiliated organization EVER having been in legal trouble with signature gathering."

    In this case VOTE Oregon is certainly NOT in legal trouble. I'd like you to clarify your point here.

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      First of all, please accept my apologies for asserting that only conservative initiatives had signature gatherers under indictment. I was unaware of the Measure 70 related one. I appreciate you bringing it to my attention as it definitely indicates a more widespread problem with our signature gathering process than I knew.

      Second, I absolutely believe we should hold chief petitioners accountable for what their subcontractors or employees do in the field. That would be like saying we don't hold a general contractor accountable if their subcontractor or employee used the wrong kind of nails or bad sheetrock. It's absurd.

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    Carla I think the reason only Mannix and Sizemore's petitioners have been found forging signatures is because only the opponents of Mannix and Sizemore have had the money to look for forgeries. Trust me, I am as sick of those two as anyone - probably moreso - but I really think trying to pin petition forgeries on Mannix and Sizemore is a real stretch.

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      I'm sorry Becky--but I strongly disagree.

      The problems with signature forgeries have been going on for years here. Something stinks in this process and continues to do so. How are these subcontractors being vetted and hired? Who is doing the background checks on these folks? Who is making the hiring decisions?

      Even with the Measure 70 citation, this has far and away been a conservative petition issue. I just don't believe that only one side has had the money to investigate. Traditionally, Mr. Parks has been extremely generous with these campaigns (and to VOTE LLC)--I find it hard to swallow that if one of the main goals is to root out fraud and abuse on all sides, that he wouldn't pony up the money to investigate petitioners.

      Something is really wrong with this process and it still seems like we're paying a lot of lip service to fixing it, especially years down the road, facing basically the same issues.

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        Points all taken Carla, but Day cited the fact that these people were brought to the attention of the SOS and AG by his organization. So this particular incident is kind of a non-incident when addressing the many and ongoing shenanigans of the Day/Mannix team.

        One place we might further reform would be to go back to using unpaid ideologues to gather signatures. If there's insufficient passion, they'll be less likely to get the necessary numbers on a given effort.

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          I totally get why you'd say, "So this particular incident is kind of a non-incident when addressing the many and ongoing shenanigans of the Day/Mannix team."

          And at first blush, yeah, that's reasonable.

          But Ross also said that they've had problems with others. It's not just these two. Something else more systemic and problematic is going on here.

          I think the solution you present may in fact be the only one to solve the problem: we go back to using unpaid signature gatherers.

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