Corbett aims to ban per-signature petition pay

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett is taking another stab at legislation to bar companies that gather petition signatures for ballot measures from paying workers on a per-signature basis.

Corbett said SB 168, introduced Thursday, would remove the incentive for signature gatherers to harass or bully voters into signing petitions, or to fabricate signatures; if they’re paid an hourly wage or salary, it won’t matter how many signatures they gather.

“Our initiative process was established at the turn of the century to give Californians more direct say in our democratic process. It was certainly not set up to create a scam to line the pockets of signature gatherers,” Corbett, D-San Leandro, said in a news release issued Friday afternoon. “Senate Bill 168 will help eliminate fraud and uphold the integrity of the initiative process.”

Some states have received reports of petition circulators forging signatures of names taken from a phonebook, she said; others inserted carbon paper and a second petition beneath the original one, without voters’ knowledge, to get signatures on two petitions at a time. And here in California, she noted, Sacramento County election officials in 2006 discovered that nearly 33 percent of signatures in a petition filed were fraudulent.

Corbett, along with senators Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Dean Florez, D-Shafter, had put forth a similar bill in 2009 that was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009; the governor said it would limit the initiative process by making it “difficult for grassroots organizations to gather the necessary signatures and qualify measures for the ballot.”

A few states, including Colorado, Montana and Nebraska, passed similar laws in recent years, but a federal judge last June issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of Colorado’s in a still-pending lawsuit that claims the ban is unconstitutional.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • ralph hoffmann

    What about Labor Union gatherers?

  • John W

    Ralph Hoffman, you raise an excellent point. Nobody should be allowed to pay signature gatherers on a “per signature” basis. Anybody know whether the bill is drafted to cover everybody? We should write our Assembly and Senate representatives on that point.

  • monica h

    There are 2 points Senator Corbett continues to ignore:
    1. paid signature gathering is a mutli million dollar industry in California, that employees thousands of people and generates much need tax dollars for the state of California.
    2. The states with hourly rates for signature gatherers have seen an increase in forgeries because they all use signature quota based bonus programs. It also has caused the overall cost of qualifying an initaitive because the validity of signatures is lower.

    The last point is I would like Sac County Elections to provide proof of the numbers of forgeries quoted in this article, because the SOS website, which reports county validity numbers and is public information, directly disproves this quote.

    This is just another attempt to prevent direct democracy from causing elected officials from acctually having to do their jobs

  • Josh Richman

    I e-mailed Sen. Corbett’s office this morning to see where they’d gotten the information to back up their contention that, “In 2006, Sacramento county election officials discovered that nearly 33 percent of signatures in a petition filed were fraudulent.”

    Corbett spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill sent me back this Sacramento Bee article, and said a staffer had confirmed the circumstances with Sacramento County Assistant Registrar Alice Jarboe.

  • George Antrobus

    Well, how do you like this: “It was certainly not set up to create a scam to line the pockets of signature gatherers.”

    There you go Senator Corbett. Signature gatherers are “lining their pockets.” Why doesn’t Senator Corbett go out and gather a few signatures? See what it’s like to earn about $10 per hour with no benefits.

    Of course, no problem if the Democrats want to get initiative measures on the ballot – they’ll just dip into the union political funds – paid for by ME, the taxpayer – and spend as much as they want.

    This is another attack on direct democracy by a union operative. I’ll bet Senator Corbett never had to raise money for her campaigns. Being a Democrat, she just does what the union bosses tell her, and they give her as much money as she needs to buy another election.

    Someday, when I get thrown out of my home (already paid for in full) because property taxes cost more than social security pays, I’ll think of Senator Corbett and all her privileged public sector retirees, whose pensions sucked the life out of our economy, turned it all over to Wall Street (in order to pretend the taxpayers didn’t actually pay for these pensions) to gamble, then jacked up taxes some more, so they could not only afford property taxes but mortgages and car payments and tuition on their obscene, grotesque, bloated, disgusting retirement pensions (and free premium health care). You never had to plan for retirement. None of you public “servants.” You actually think we private sector workers (whose taxes pay your obscene over-market compensation) “make more” – hence, these poor semi-destitute signature gatherers are “lining their pockets.” Do you have any idea how despicable you sound, Senator Corbett? Go buy another election with the money your union stole from the taxpayers.

    California is an occupied state. The Unions own us and control us. And Corbett is just another one of their lousy puppets. Gee, I guess this all makes me a “hater,” doesn’t it? What stinking hypocrisy.