Wednesday, April 06, 2005

SLO Editorial Worth A Full Post

From today's San Luis Obispo Tribune, an editorial on the Bowen bill, that deserves to be posted in full:

Before you sign that petition ...

You may recently have been approached by a professional signature gatherer seeking your name to qualify Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's four reform initiatives for a special election to be held in the fall.

Like migrant workers who follow various harvests, signature gatherers work during the political season, collecting $1.25 for each name they reap.

The situation smells a little ripe for a couple of reasons.

First, after saying he is a politician who can't be bought, Schwarzenegger has been raising millions of dollars in business contributions to pay for the initiative campaign. Just how independent can he be with those contributors?

Second, the process of hiring people to gather names has a manipulative feel to it.

For example, one of these gatherers at a recent farmers' market identified himself as an unemployed man who lives in Lake County, Fla. He said he was given a round-trip ticket to California, assigned to San Luis Obispo County -- where, he was told, people will sign anything -- and put up in a motel.

There's nothing illegal about the way the governor chooses to advance his agenda, although it doesn't quite pass the populist sniff test. But we think some transparency is in order, and that's where Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, comes in.

Bowen has authored SB 469, a bill that would require initiative petition carriers to identify if they're volunteer or paid. Her measure, which had its first reading Tuesday, would also identify who the top five donors to each initiative are.

We agree with Bowen that "It's a way of letting people know who they dealing with ... if it's a real, classic initiative, a grassroots effort or whether there are large funders who potentially have a stake in whether it's passed."

Bowen's proposal deserves support. In the interim, if you're approached by a petition carrier, take the initiative to ask if they're paid or volunteer. More importantly, ask which special interest group stands to gain by passage of the initiative -- a question we should ask of every ballot measure.

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