Thieving Signature Gatherers

A new political radio ad running in Sacramento this week is claiming that paid signature gatherers are often identity thieves, convicted felons and forgers.

Usually when an ad campaign starts on radio, there is an active political campaign behind it.

However this week when I did a Google search for “Californians Against Identity Theft,” the group which claims responsibility for the ad, nothing popped up. And even this morning when I researched the group, again nothing appeared in the Google searches.

But when I did one more search just after noon today, a new website popped up for “Californians Against Identity Theft,” claiming that ballot initiatives lead to ballot fraud, and identity theft. “Ballot fraud is any attempt to mislead voters or qualify a ballot measure in a way that skirts the rules,” the website states. “This includes misleading ballot titles, fake signatures, or people gathering signatures who aren’t allowed to do so.”

The radio ad features a woman telling her husband that pushy signature gatherers at the grocery story successfully convinced her to sign a petition. Her husband tells her that she should not have signed the petition because paid signature gatherers move from state to state stealing identities. “The Legislature called it an identity theft starter kit. Now we really need to watch our bank statements and credit information,” the husband says.

“That’s it, I’m not singing any more petitions. I guess the lesson here is not to give our name and address to anyone we don’t know,” replies the woman.

A brief story in the Sacramento Bee today reported that a website for the group was launched today, after they published the story about the ads. “Update 11:36 a.m.: A website for the group has been launched at this link.” 

“The group does not appear to have any ties to legitimate organizations dedicated to protecting consumers from identity theft, ” reports the Bee. A representative of Common Cause said he could not think of a situation where identity theft occurred from signing an petition and added  that the ad “sounded like an attempt to ‘provoke a fear’ to discourage people from signing petitions.”

A search of the Secretary of State’s website did not find any ballot measures sponsored by “Californians Against Identity Theft.”

But there have been many attempts to end the ballot initiative process. Currently, Assembly Bill 651 (Hueso), would require any firm that uses paid signature gatherers for petition circulation, register with the Secretary of State and pay a registration fee. The bill made its way through the Assembly already, and was recently amended in the Senate twice (latest version of the bill). The bill currently awaits a floor vote.

Another bill attempting to alter the initiative process was AB 6 (Saldana) from 2009, which would also have required petition firms to register with the Secretary of state and pay a fee. In the veto message of AB 6, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “The people of California often exercise their important role in government oversight through the initiative, referendum and recall process. I cannot support a measure that places an undue burden on reform-minded Californians.”

SB 68 (Corbett) will “prohibit a person from paying another person, or being paid based on the number of signatures obtained on an initiative, referendum, or recall petition.” Democratic Sen. Ellen Corbett (San Leandro) said, “Some signature gathering firms compensate circulators based on the number of signatures they collect. Some circulators reach the deadline to qualify initiatives by illegally misinforming voters and forging names. Others have forged signatures onto their petitions by copying names they chose from a phonebook. Lastly, some have inserted carbon paper and a second petition behind the original one in order to collect signatures.”  SB 68 already made it through the Legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.”

The radio ad should arouse plenty of suspicion. This is one bill to watch closely, as well as the suspicious ad campaign, as it is using identity theft as a cover to alter the ballot initiative process and ultimately limit voter access.

(Listen to the ad here)

JULY 29, 2011


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