California Bill Punishes Paid Petitioning

Tue, May 14 2013 by Neal Hobson

In recent years, California’s Democrat-dominated legislature has repeatedly attacked the state’s citizen initiative process. Now they’re baaaaaack.

In 2011, Golden State voters were twice saved by the pen of the state’s Democratic governor:

•         Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 168, which made “productivity goals a crime,” pointing out that “per-signature payment is often the most cost-effective method for collecting the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify a ballot measure.”

•         Then, after legislators enacted Senate Bill 448, forcing people paid to circulate petitions to publicly wear a large badge indentifying themselves, Brown again penned back the anti-First Amendment tide, writing in his veto message: “I choose not to go down this slippery slope where the state decides what citizens must wear when petitioning their government.”

Today, Democrats enjoy a legislative super-majority capable of overriding the Democratic governor’s veto and Assembly Bill 857, another attempt to undermine the right to petition, has passed out of committee in the Assembly.

AB 857 requires that 20 percent of the signatures to place a measure on the ballot must come from volunteers, or paid employees of any non-profit group, as long as those employees main purpose is gathering signatures. The provision is clearly unconstitutional. As even the legislative analysis notes, “It could be argued that the 20 percent requirement imposed by this bill could be susceptible to a court challenge in light of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Meyer.”

But also consider the practical two-fold effect of AB 857 on the petition process:

1.      Most citizen groups don’t have the built-in base of volunteers necessary to garner 20 percent of the needed signatures and will end up having to spend far more than it currently costs to both hire paid petition circulators and build a large base of volunteers.

2.      All the “non-profit” unions endorsing AB 857 will be especially-empowered by the law to pay people to gather signatures and to still have those “paid” signatures count toward the 20 percent requirement for volunteer or uncompensated signatures.

AB 857 also forces paid petitioners to register and go through training in order to petition. It mandates that paid circulators must wear a badge with their photograph on it while petitioning, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has previously struck down a Colorado law making paid petitioners wear a badge. The bill also requires petitions circulated by paid workers (but not by paid union members) to be yellow and to carry a disclaimer in 18-point type reading: “WARNING TO THE PUBLIC: THIS PETITION IS BEING CIRCULATED BY A PERSON PAID TO OBTAIN YOUR SIGNATURE. READ THE CONTENTS OF THIS PETITION BEFORE SIGNING.”

AB 857 is yet another unconstitutional slap by legislators at the public they are supposed to serve.


More at Ballot Access News: Here

Legislative Analysis on AB 857: Here