Legislation to Ban ‘Mercenary’ Signature Gatherers Passes First Assembly Hurdle

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Oaks Project Lauds Bill Which Would Eliminate Incentives for Voter Fraud Encouraged by Pay-Per-Signature System

AB 980 (Pavley) passed out of the Assembly Elections Committee today, clearing the first hurdle in an effort to eliminate ‘mercenary’ signature gatherers from the initiative process. The bill bans the pay-per-signature scheme for paid petition circulators and mandates that all compensation be hourly.

The Oaks Project lauded Assemblywoman Pavley’s efforts to clean up the initiative process. “Mercs give a bad name to the entire process when they don’t care about what they’re working on and are out there solely to make a buck,” stated Oaks Project organizer Carmen Balber. “The result can be both turning off voters to the initiative process and increasing the likelihood of fraudulent signatures.”

Current law allows high-paid initiative firms to pay their petition circulators whatever the initiative sponsor is willing to spend in order to put a proposition on the ballot. This practice leads to a greater incentive for circulators to commit fraud as their paychecks increase for every signature, valid or not, that they turn in. A recent local initiative campaign for a proposition on the November, 2000 Santa Monica ballot saw ‘mercs’ getting paid up to $25 a signature near the end of the campaign as signatures became increasingly difficult to get.

The Oaks Project is committed to cleaning up the initiative process and returning it to it’s original purpose Ñ a mechanism for citizens to petition their fellow voters on important issues that the legislature has not taken up their satisfaction. To this end, members of the Oaks Project commit to gathering 1,000 all-volunteer signatures a year to put VQI Ñ or Volunteer Qualified Initiatives Ñ on the ballot.

The Oaks Project is sponsoring a related initiative reform bill, AB 1236 (Jackson) this session to give voters more information in the initiative process Ñ from the point of petition circulation to the moment of choice in the voting booth. The Oaks bill will require full disclosure of initiative sponsors, as well as whether a petition was circulated by paid signature gatherers or volunteers. AB 1236 will be voted on by the Assembly Elections committee this coming Monday, April 23rd.

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