State Senator Josh Newman has proposed a new senate bill that would abolish paid signature gatherers and impose fines and other penalties. While SB 1394 intends to impose fines and “empower citizens to blow whistle on violators,” for a state senator would is the target of a recall where paid signature gatherers got petitions signed, this bill should be viewed as retaliatory.
There are a number of worthwhile ballot measures on a local or state level where citizens can make a decision at the ballot box. Many have well-funded backers but not enough volunteers to get the required number of signatures. Paying workers to gather signatures is a way to get important issues on the ballot.
And there’s no question some paid signature gatherers don’t have the best command of the details behind every ballot measure, and knowingly lying about a measure if clearly wrong. But it’s always incumbent on the voter to read the measure before signing.
Newman’s bill — on its face — appears retaliatory against those paid signature gatherers who hustled for the recall. And punishing all paid signature gatherers is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
It’s undemocratic and potentially unconstitutional. His press release is below.
Pay-per-Signature Gathering would be Prohibited under
SB 1394 by Senator Josh Newman
Measure would impose fines and other penalties
and empower citizens to blow the whistle on violators
Sacramento, CA – Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) today introduced SB 1394 to prohibit paying signature gatherers on per-signature basis in the state of California. The measure would prohibit the practice for state or local initiatives, as well as referendum and recall petitions.
“Petitioners who are paid per-signature have a powerful incentive to do whatever it takes to get voters to sign,” said Fullerton Democrat Josh Newman. “Too often this includes misrepresenting the purpose of the petition or straight out lying to get voters to sign. This is fraud, plain and simple, and it damages the integrity of the process. Voters have a right to know that what they are signing is actually what they will be voting for on the ballot.”
Under current state law, intentionally misleading a voter about the intent of a petition or failing to disclose that you are a paid petitioner is already a misdemeanor, but the penalties are rarely enforced. SB 1394 would impose a fine of $25,000 or $50 per-signature gathered, whichever amount is greater, on the organizations that employ signature gatherers who are paid on a per-signature or ‘bounty’ basis. Signature gatherers themselves could be fined up to $1000 for participating in the practice, which has been shown to encourage and reward misleading voters.
SB 1394 would also allow an individual to bring a civil action for violations, if the Attorney General does not. This would empower voters who witness fraud firsthand to be whistleblowers and protect the transparency of elections at the local level.
SB 1394 would not prohibit payment for signature gathering, only the payment of per-signature bounties. Employers could still pay their petitioners hourly wages or on salary.
Eight states, including Oregon, Colorado, Nebraska and Arizona, have already adopted laws to ban paid signature gathering. Signature gatherer workers in these states instead earn an hourly wage.
Senator Josh Newman represents the 29th Senate District, which includes cities across Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino Counties.