Governor Vetoes Legislation to Disclose Paid or Volunteer Status for Signature Gatherers
Citizen activists decried Governor Davis’ move Monday to deny voters knowledge of whether petition circulators vying for voters’ signatures are paid or volunteers. The action follows a week in which the Governor has fallen under heavy fire for his failure to request economic interest disclosures from energy advisors.
The bill, SB 725, authored by State Senator Jack Scott, D-Altadena, would have required all petitions for initiative, referendum and recall drives to contain a notice to inform voters whether or not the petition circulator was volunteering or was being paid to collect their name. Governor Davis vetoed the bill on Monday night. In his veto message for a nearly identical bill, SB 1219 (Schiff) sponsored by the citizen advocacy group the Oaks Project in 1999, Governor Davis called the reform “unnecessary.”
“Evidently the Governor finds disclosure of any kind unnecessary,” chastised Carmen Balber, Director of the Oaks Project, a volunteer citizen group dedicated to increasing citizen participation in the initiative process. “Davis was forced to fire five energy consultants because he failed to ask for minimal disclosures. Apparently the public shouldn’t be surprised that the Governor doesn’t think they need this information either.”
The Oaks Project is currently sponsoring a related bill on initiative reform, AB 1236, authored by Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, which aims to provide more information to the voter ÃƒÂ from the point of signing a petition to the moment of choice in the ballot box.
“It is time the Governor recognized that the people of California have a right to know,” said Marylan Goodman, Oaks Project citizen volunteer who has gathered over 3,000 all-volunteer signatures on citizens’ initiatives. “First, he tries to pull the wool over our eyes by hiring conflicted consultants. Then he refuses to give the public important information about special interest money in the initiative process. Is the Governor afraid of information that might leak out around an energy initiative in 2002?”
AB 1236 mirrors the provisions in SB 725 but goes much further to provide complete information to the voter. It provides for full financial disclosure throughout the initiative process. Specifically, the bill would require the sponsors of television advertisements for or against a measure to disclose who is really paying for the ads. The legislation would also inform voters if an initiative was a Volunteer Qualified Initiative, or VQI.
The reform proposal comes at a time when citizens across California are becoming more and more frustrated with special interest takeover of the citizen’s initiative process.
Polls conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California over the last year showed that over 90% of Californians feel the initiative is at least somewhat controlled by special interests. The same poll shows that a majority feel voters do not receive enough information in the initiative process, and 60% are in favor of banning paid signature gatherers altogether.
“The public clearly wants to know who is collecting their signature: a paid mercenary working for special interests or a democratically involved volunteer,” Marylan Goodman declares.
Volunteer Qualified Initiatives ÃƒÂ VQI
Oaks Project volunteers incubated the VQI concept over the past two years, collecting nearly 70,000 signatures to qualify five ballot initiatives in cities across California. The measures prevent city officials from accepting campaign contributions, gifts or employment from entities that benefit from the official’s decisions. Examples of “benefits” include city contracts, land deals and tax breaks. They passed overwhelmingly in Santa Monica, Claremont, Pasadena, San Francisco and Vista and locales across California have begun to express interest in adopting similar provisions.
The signature gathering and get-out-the vote efforts for the propositions were done entirely by volunteers, unprecedented in this age of multi-million dollar paid signature gathering operations and equally high-priced campaigns run by public relations firms. In stunning contrast, Oaks Project volunteers handed out tens of thousands of flyers, made thousands of phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors to educate voters and get out the vote.
The Oaks Project
The non-profit, non-partisan Oaks Project was founded in 1997 by consumer advocates Ralph Nader and Harvey Rosenfield to train citizens to participate more effectively in CaliforniaÃƒÂ•s democracy. To become an Oak, volunteers attend monthly trainings in practical political skills and agree to spend 10-15 hours per month putting those skills to work on legislative and initiative campaigns to create a more democratic political system. Oaks volunteers also agree to raise $500 per year, and collect 1000 signatures on all Volunteer Qualified Initiatives (VQI). The Oaks Project played a decisive role in passing HMO patient protections in the California legislature in 1999 and spearheaded the 1998 drive to lower utility rates for California ratepayers by co-sponsoring Proposition 9. They are currently working on the front lines of the energy debate.