Governor Jerry Brown did the right thing yesterday when he vetoed SB 168 by Sen. Ellen Corbett. The bill would have changed payment for helping to gather signature petitions from a per signature basis to a flat hourly rate. The change in the process would have made it more expensive to pay for signature gatherers, something Brown recognized would favor the wealthiest interests.
More importantly, Brown noted that the bill offered “a dramatic change” in California’s long established democratic process of direct democracy, which the governor knows the people respect and defend.
Some have conjectured that Brown, himself, is looking to the initiative process to raise taxes that the legislative process denied him and if SB 168 became law it would be more expensive for him to succeed. Perhaps. However, Brown’s time serving as California Secretary of State long ago also may have helped create the foundation for this veto.
One of the chief arguments made in favor of the bill was that the current system of paying per signature lends itself to fraud. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who supported the bill, testified that between 1994 and 2010 there were 33 convictions for petition fraud.
The Bee newspapers, supporting the case for a veto, editorialized: "An average of three prosecutions yearly hardly seems like a crime spree."
The Citizens in Charge Foundation recently issued a report on the petition fraud convictions claiming the Secretary of State overstated the number of convictions by a third. The Foundation also claimed that the fraud convictions had dropped 85% over the last decade.
Since, Jerry Brown served as California’s Secretary of State from 1971 to 1975, he would have a sense of the fraud that arises in such cases. True, Brown’s stint in office came before the initiative process became more frequently used in the 1980s. However, he would understand how rarely fraud occurred.
Brown chose not to use the flimsy case against fraud as an excuse to put obstacles in the path of the people’s right to petition their government.