Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Fool Disclosure

State Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) has introduced a bill (SB 469) that would require paid signature gatherers to disclose their paid status.

Now that's a disclosure we can get behind.

Paid gatherers get around $1 a signature, all while looking like their doing the people's work out there, whipping support and delivering to the voters apple-pie-pure initiatives. In reality, of course, today's initiatives are the monied off-spring of unelected, unaccountable, usually unknown billionaires who believe their own PR.

Bowen's proposal would require circulators to label petitions either "volunteer circulator" or "paid circulator." I'm sure there are ways around that, truth being a squidgy thing at times, but it's a start. The bill would also require the petitions to list the top five proponent donors. That's good as far as it goes, but until we figure out how to force more organizational/PAC honesty than "Californians to Save California's California," or "California Grandmothers for Apple-Pie Reformation," such disclosure will be only mildly helpful. The article doesn't acknowledge this problem until the last graf - but don't underestimate the power of a good name.

Says Bowen, in the Merc piece:
``It's a way of letting people know who they're dealing with -- if it's a real, classic initiative, a grass-roots effort, or whether there are large funders who potentially have a stake in whether it's passed,'' said Bowen, who is running for secretary of state in 2006. ``I think people deserve to know who is paying for it -- it's really simple.''
We're unsure about what's really grass-roots anymore, and, frankly, anyone supporting anything usually does so because he/she/it has a stake in its outcome, but we get her point.

Who's against it?

So far, her bill has no formal opposition -- although some political consultants think it could be a hassle or could discourage people from participating in California's cherished direct democracy. The concept of initiatives was first launched by Progressive Gov. Hiram Johnson to combat the influence of the state's railroad barons.

``It frankly is onerous and is an attempt to undermine the initiative process,'' said Republican consultant Kevin Spillane, who has worked on several statewide initiative campaigns, including a recent effort to create an open primary. ``It's dressed up in the guise of open government and disclosure, but in reality what it's trying to do is discourage people from signing and create additional burdens.''. . .

Others see an unintended benefit: If collecting signatures becomes more complicated, professionals could become even more indispensable.

It takes several hundred thousand signatures to qualify an initiative for the ballot, so nearly all successful campaigns work with professional firms that send out thousands of people to canvass the state. Typically, it costs $1 million to qualify an initiative -- or more if time is short.

For Fred Kimball, president of Kimball Petition Management outside of Los Angeles, the changes Bowen is proposing would amount to ``a higher printing bill'' for petitions.

``Sure, it's a pain for the treasurers; for us it doesn't change things at all,'' he said. ``Honest to God, the harder they make the process, the more they need us.''
[Please excuse the following, but we can't control ourselves:]


Look, yeah, it might make more work for the attorneys who do the legwork necessary to decrease the chance for pre-election challenges, the ones who clear petitions for circulation, etc, but it doesn't make the paid petitioner's job more difficult. They aren't WRITING the damn things. Hell, half the time, they aren't even READING the damn things.

The process isn't difficult. But it is expensive. Mostly litigation costs and general legal work. And people don't volunteer. Which shows they don't care THAT much about the issues, doesn't it? They'll vote on it after proponents spend millions of dollars to beat it into them that they should. But if the issue were really the will of the people, what Californians demand, as Schwarzenegger et al would have you believe, then why aren't people lining up to volunteer to collect signatures?

This isn't our cherished direct democracy. It's rich people's cherished direct democracy.

You give Phoblog $2 million dollars and we'll get whatever you want on the ballot. Done. With as much insulation from legal challenges as possible. And a big, pretty bow.

Other efforts to pass similar requirements have failed - under both Reep and Dem governors. Schwarzenegger would be wise to support this measure. If he's really committed to blowing up boxes, he should start by blowing proponent obfuscation off ballot boxes.

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