SB-660, Prohibiting Pay-Per-Signature Incentives, would “eliminate the corrosive practice of paying per-signature bounties to professional signature gatherers who work for partisan organizations,” an industry whose employees have been repeatedly accused of making false claims to prospective voters. The bill would not prohibit paying signature-gatherers an hourly wage or salary, as long as it’s not based on the number of signatures obtained. This reform might also slow down the relentless and expensive tide of recall elections.
(Note: For those of who wonder why we can’t just ban all types of paid signature gatherers outright, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Colorado’s ban on them in the Meyer vs. Grant, 486 U.S. 414 (1988) decision.)
This bill has passed both chambers of the CA legislature and is now sitting on Newsom’s desk.
However, he is NOT a lock on signing it. In fact “every recent governor has vetoed at least one version of the proposal. When he vetoed a 2019 ban on per-signature payments, Newsom said, “While I appreciate the intent of this legislation to incentivize grassroots support for the initiative process, I believe this measure could make the qualification of many initiatives cost-prohibitive, thereby having the opposite effect.”
However, we disagree. Sen. Henry Stern argued that in a similar 2018 bill, per-signature payments incentivize gatherers to use misleading or underhanded tactics to get pen on paper. “This practice degrades the integrity of our direct democracy and our initiative process, because the behavior is based on the bounty hunter’s bottom-line.” Seven states already manage to survive without them. Why not us?
And now that he’s survived a recall attempt, Governor Newsom may be having second thoughts. Let’s ask.
Minimum call/email script: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want Governor Newsom to make CA the eighth state to ban pay-per-signature gatherers by signing SB 660 into law. Signature-gathering firms paying a bounty for each signature create an incentive to both illegally misinform voters and to forge names. Their presence creates distrust and confusion in the initiative process and should no longer be allowed.
Governor Gavin Newsom: email, (916) 445-2841
[You can add on more information about pay-per-signature scandals from your own county. Here’s a sampling of ones that made the news.]
VENTURA RESIDENTS: This issue hits close to home for us Ventura County residents. Paid–signature gatherers on the payroll of oil companies helped to stop, at least temporarily, new operating rules that would protect local front line communities and our land and water from older and more hazardous industry practices. Four local environmental organizations alleged that these signature gatherers provided false and misleading information to prospective petition signers. Now county voters will have to pay for an election to enforce the very sensible ruling of our Board of Supervisors, an elected body that already represents our interests.
- CALIFORNIA: In 2014, Venture capitalist Tim Draper’s controversial campaign to split California into six states failed this month to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. His paid gatherers “allegedly resorted to a range of shady and misleading tactics to trick voters into supporting the initiative. “It was such a ridiculous idea that it was very difficult to get signatures for it,” said Steven Maviglio, a political consultant who helped lead the OneCalifornia campaign opposing the initiative. “They used every trick in the book to try and fool people into signing.” According to Maviglio, some of the Six Californias signature gatherers lied to voters by saying their petitions were to oppose the initiative and keep the state intact. Other paid workers, he said, told voters they were collecting signatures to stop a tax increase.
- SANTA CLARA COUNTY: 2018 – Residents filed a complaint and protest to Santa Clara County District Attorney, Registrar of Voters and City of Mountain View about voter deception in Mountain View by paid signature gatherers. “The Mountain View Homeowner, Renter, and Taxpayer Protection Initiative”, recently submitted on October 9, 2018, by proponents John Inks and Bryan Danforth, was alleged to be full of false statements, distortions, half-truths and misleading statements, and the paid signature gatherers pressured registered voters into signing a second and even a third time!
- SAN MATEO: In 2018, the San Mateo County District Attorney filed multiple felony charges against referendum petition signature gatherers hired by the California Apartment Association (CAA). The CAA referendum overturned a temporary law passed by the Pacifica City Council that would have protected tenants from exorbitant rent increases and unjust evictions in the months leading up to the November 2017 vote on rent control.
- REDDING: 2018 – According to the author, paid signature gatherers falsely claimed to him and other shoppers that a large Indian casino would require a large amount of Redding city money for infrasturcture and that property taxes would go up if the casino wasn’t stopped.
- SAN DIEGO: In 2014: “Supporters of raising San Diego’s minimum wage say they were duped into signing a petition for a ballot measure seeking to overturn it. Former state assemblywoman Lori Saldana says more than 1,000 San Diegans are trying to get their signatures removed from the petition. They accuse paid signature gatherers of lying to voters, telling them their signature would ensure the minimum wage would be raised, which the City Council has already approved.“
- SAN DIEGO: in 2019 – Three lawsuits — involving the San Diego Convention Center and the Chargers stadium ballot measures — filed in San Diego against a high-profile signature-gathering company accuse the firm of misrepresenting the number of signatures gathered and how many gatherers it had hired, and of using an outdated voter database.