Today there is a hearing in the California Senate on S.B. 168. Citizens in Charge opposes the bill and sent the following letter to state senators:
California citizens are blessed with one of the nation’s most accessible systems of state and local initiative and referendum. Our 2010 Report Card on Statewide Voter Initiative Rights  graded California’s process a B+, tied with Arkansas and Nevada, and just barely behind Missouri and Ohio, which both received an A-. Americans in 45 states lack the opportunity to participate in their government as robustly as Californians.
Unfortunately, these cherished rights will be thwarted and California’s grade will necessarily drop if Senate Bill 168 were to become law. As the only national organization dedicated to protecting and expanding voter initiative and referendum rights, Citizens in Charge respectfully asks that you vote against SB 168 and not allow it to move out of the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee.
SB 168 bans ballot committees and individuals from paying people who circulate petitions for initiatives, referendums and recalls on the basis of the number of signatures they collect. It would mean that a person who paid his daughter $100 if she’d work until she gathered 100 signatures could spend a year in jail, and his daughter up to six months. Campaign committee members of a group that awarded a free dinner at a local restaurant for the volunteer who collected the most signatures that day could likewise be arrested and incarcerated or fined.
There are several important reasons to reject SB 168. The legislation will drive up the cost of petitioning a measure onto California’s ballot. Because paying petition circulators by the signature gives them an incentive to work harder, it is the most cost effective means available.
Last year, in a lawsuit challenging a Colorado law similar to SB 168 (though far less severe), U.S. District Court Judge Philip Brimmer wrote in his order blocking enforcement  of the law that, “The testimony by both sides established that the effect of H.B. 1326 [Colorado’s statute restricting pay per signature] is to raise the per-signature cost of a ballot initiative campaign.”
Grassroots groups hoping to place a reform on the state ballot without the ability to pay their workers by-the-signature could face costs that are significantly higher – in some cases as much as double. While SB 168 may not deter the state’s most powerful or wealthy special interests, the higher costs will block the participation of grassroots groups and those less well-to-do.
Supporters of SB 168 suggest that the bill is needed to combat fraud in the petition process. Yet, there is little evidence of fraud and absolutely no evidence that pay-per-signature does anything to induce fraud or that laws which ban it do anything at all to mitigate fraud.
Passage of SB 168 is also likely to lead to costly litigation that California can ill afford. Challenges to bans on per signature payment of petition circulators are currently underway in Colorado, Nebraska and Oregon. While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld such a ban in an Oregon case, similar bans have been enjoined or overturned in Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio and Washington.
Furthermore, in its consideration of this legislation, the Senate is only receiving part of the information it needs. Several points in the legislative analysis for SB 168  are skewed or incomplete.
First, it is reprehensible to refer to people who work circulating an initiative measure to help California voters petition their government and place issues on the ballot as “bounty hunters.” It seems an attempt to belittle and demonize an entire group of overwhelmingly honest and hardworking citizens. The term commonly, and more respectfully, used for these campaign workers is “petition circulator.”
Second, the analysis omits completely the most recent and far reaching legal case concerning a ban on per-signature pay for petition circulators. An Ohio law outlawing such payments was struck down by the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case, Deters v. Citizens for Tax Reform . The case was appealed by the State of Ohio all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in November of 2008 declined to hear the case allowing the law to be overturned.
Senate Bill 168 does nothing to improve the initiative process. Instead, it will decrease the rights of Californians to petition their government. We urge you to protect the voice of California citizens by refusing to pass SB 168 out of your committee.