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Initiative cash: Millions for `direct democracy’

by David Ammons | July 22nd, 2010

As we’ve noted in this space, initiatives are very popular this year and likely will equal the modern record set 10 years ago.  The folks over at the Public Disclosure Commission, which tracks contributions and spending by supporters and foes of ballot measures, report that as of mid-July, over $10 million has been raised and over $9 million spent, much of it to pay for signature-gathering.

In an analysis presented to the Public Disclosure Commission, staffer Tony Perkins traced the large flow of big-dollar contributions from well-heeled interests.  His conclusion:

“The citizen initiative was once seen as a remedy for the domination of industry and other powerful interests over the legislative process. Today, contribution and expenditure reports filed with the PDC reveal that these same well‐funded interests—corporations, unions, trade and professional associations—use paid signature gatherers to accomplish their goals.”

7 Responses to “Initiative cash: Millions for `direct democracy’”

  1. Does Iinitiaive pass or fail on a simple majority vote, or does it require a 2/3 vote, like its subject matter?

  2. David Ammons says:

    initiatives and referenda require only a simple majority to pass. Constitutional amendments must originate in the Legislature and get two-thirds of both houses, plus simple-majority approval of the voters.

  3. I would say the peope are fed up with the arrogance and tyrannical nature of the Democratic majority in this state, who with their counterparts in the other Washington, ignore the will of the people while they tax and spend us out of existence.

  4. What is interesting is that, the initiative and referendum institute indicates that paid signature gatherers worked from the beginning. In 1914 petition circulators where paid $.10 per signature … translated into today’s dollars … that is HUGE.

    Paying someone to act in your stead and collect signatures often makes sense … for instance … when the Police and Fireman wanted an issue on the ballot (i-790) for their retirement, they didn’t stop policing or putting out fires to go get the signatures… they hired people to do it for them.

    When the teachers wanted lower class sizes … they didn’t stop teaching or grading homework and go out to get the signatures … they hired people to do it for them.

    When Ross Perot wanted to run for President as a “reform” party candidate … or Jesse Ventura for Govenor of MN … they hired people to help them accomplish the unbeliveable task of establishing the third party and the nominating petitions in 50 states! Do you think Green party candiates get on the ballot without paying people to help them? … Think again.

    As we’ve seen time and time again paid petition circulation is no more un-democratic or un-patriotic then paid poll workers, paid GOTV canvassers, or paid campaign workers.

    When Marijuana was approved for sick people as medicine … do you think the sick people went out and got the signatures all over the country? No … they hired pros.

    This year … Marijuana may be approved for legalization and taxation in California … you know who got the signatures? The same pros.

    Was not George Washington’s volunteer militia paid to fight the British?

    So … where is the beef? Today is the same as yesterday … the fantasy of yesterday as some dreamy “covered wagon” democracy is that …. fantasy.

  5. The sad part of the initiative process is that initiatives can be changed, by the legislature or by state agencies, after spending money to have the people vote.

    There are plenty of consumer protection laws (initiatives) that can be passed through the legislature. However, this is time consuming. The initiative process includes the direct voice of the people, showing the emotional intent of the people. Money well spent, if need be.

    Wish me luck on two pieces of consumer protection legislation?

    Legislation, to Laws, to Rules, to Court. Legislation is the Business of Laws.

    Pamela J. Hanson
    President, Lawyers Inc.

  6. From Rose Eilts, CPA

    Fraud Encountered with Paid Signature Gatherers
    I was a volunteer signature gatherer for I-1068 Marijuana Reform Act. Our campaign was all volunteer – we did not pay for signature gatherers.
    I encountered 2 paid signature gatherers outside of Target in Lakewood. They did not have I-1068 on their table and I told them I was a volunteer for that campaign. They told me they wanted I-1068 petitions on their table because it was the petition voters were looking for. They begged me for petitions! We worked out an agreement – I would leave them about 100 petitions and 2 big envelopes with prepaid postage and they would collect the signatures and mail the petitions back to me. In the 15 minutes I was there, I witnessed about 9 people signing I-1068 petitions. I got nothing returned to me. I suspect the petitions went into the trash.

    I encountered another signature gatherer of Walmart in Olympia. Similar story – she said I-1068 was the initiative people were looking for and asked me to leave petitions with her. Our agreement was that she would collect the signatures and I would pick them up from her periodically. She gave our campaign manager about 20 petitions with signatures. After that, she had one excuse after another – she didn’t have them with her, they were with another person, etc. I gave her my cell number and I told her I could come to anywhere she was and pick up the petitions. I got nothing more from this person and again, I believe the petitions went into the trash.

    I reported this to I-1068 campaign headquarters. Our campaign manager said he knows this is a problem. Our campaign received between 20,000-30,000 signatures from paid gatherers. I suspect that many or more have gone into the trash because the gatherers were not paid.

    We can prevent this fraud from happening again in the future. We can implement an on-line signature gathering process for initiatives.

    Rose Eilts, CPA
    Olympia, WA

  7. John Parker says:

    Money is always going to play a role in politics, however gathering signatures for an initiative petition need not be limited by money. The signature gathering should be about the merit of the initiative – not raising funds to pay signature gatherers.

    One need only look at the amount of money spent on paid signature gatherers in recent years to realize that the citizens initiative is no longer about the ideas of the citizenry. It is now just another tool to be used by the same groups that have lobbyist pushing their agenda in the legislature.

    I would like to see the Secretary of State implement a process by which citizens of Washington may place their signature on initiative petitions via the Internet.

    Electronic signing of initiative petitions will allow voters greater participation in the initiative process, while reducing the risk of fraud. This method would significantly reduce the role of the well‐funded interests in the signature gathering process.

    The citizens of Washington benefit from the wisdom that Sam Reed and others have shown in utilizing technology to make government more accessible to the people and promote business.

    Washington has been a leader in permitting the use of digital signatures in electronic commerce with the Electronic Authorization Act, and since 2002 corporations have been able to file with the state online. The Secretary of State gave us the nation’s first state government digital archives to permanently preserve the electronic records of government and made Washington one of only five states that allow online voter registration.

    I encourage the Secretary of State to continue the embrace of technology by permitting on-line signature gathering for state initiative petitions.

    John Parker
    Gig Harbor, WA

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