Repair California, the committee trying to qualify
constitutional convention measures for the California ballot, says it is being
blacklisted by at least some of the state’s major signature gathering firms.
In a press release and in letters to signature gathering
companies, Repair says it’s not merely that gatherers won’t carry petitions. In
some cases, its own volunteer circulators are being blocked. "Also, there
is evidence of "dirty tricks" designed to thwart the Constitutional Convention
petition effort," says the release, available at Repair’s web site.
"For example, persons acting on the signature gathering firms’ behalf may
have thrown valid signatures away." The cease-and-desist letter, as
released by Repair, does not identify the companies in question.
When I asked Repair California’s campaign director, John
Grubb, on Wednesday which firms appeared to be carrying on the blacklist, he
named three firms. California has six such firms. I’ve decided not to name the
three firms here, for the time being, as I try to learn more about this. The
owners of two of the firms mentioned did not return my calls yesterday. The
owner of a third firm did, but would not comment for the record.
Grubb reiterated what he told me in an interview last month:
that Repair is taking an unconventional approach to signature gathering, using
some paid petition circulators while also building a volunteer organization
that will work on behalf of the constitutional convention over the next few
years. (A convention, if approved, would take place in 2011, and a proposed new
constitution would likely go to voters in 2012).
But according to the legal letter and press release, putting
together the paid part of the operation has been frustrating, with California
firms refusing to take their business. This means that paid signature gathering
will cost Repair California more than the market rate. For example, several
statewide petitions currently on the street are paying between 70 cents and $1
per signature. Repair has advertised for signature gatherers on Craigslist for
$1.25 per hour.
When I wrote about the possibility of a blacklist of the con
con petition last month, I received a lot of skeptical notes from people in the
initiative industry, who suggested that Repair California had not been able to
hire people because it did not have enough money to complete the job. My
sources in and around the con con movement have insisted that they have the
money to qualify the measure–a process that can cost $2 million or more.
So is there a blacklist? After reporting off and on for a
couple weeks, and talking to a dozen different people in the signature
gathering business yesterday, the answer I got is: yes, sort of. It’s clear
that some petition gatherers – including crew chiefs and coordinators and, I
believe, at least one of the signature gathering company owners – are working
against the constitutional convention petitions. That means they are actively
discouraging circulators from working on it.
But the problem this petition faces is deeper. Many signature
gatherers see the constitutional convention as a threat to their livelihood.
They’ve taken note of previous statements by convention supporters that were
critical of the initiative process, and have concluded, rightly or wrongly,
that a convention could be a threat to the process that provides their
livelihood. Repair California, by using a non-traditional method of signature
gathering, have fanned those fears.
This has produced a real revolt among some gatherers, an
authentic feeling that makes a blacklist largely unnecessary. Circulators don’t
want to carry a petition that could hurt their own careers (unless, added one
circulator I know, the per-signature prices gets very high). One longtime crew
chief in Southern California told me yesterday, by way of explaining his desire
not to carry the con con petitions: "I’m pretty dumb, but not dumb enough to
slit my own throat."
Despite this resistance, blacklists have little history of
succeeding. The most recent prominent attempt — then Gov. Gray Davis’ attempt
to buy up all signature companies in California so they couldn’t work on the
petition seeking his recall – didn’t work, because circulators found they could
make more money working for the Darrell Issa-funded recall petition.
And blocking campaigns of the type described by Repair
California — with signatures tossed and circulators being discouraged — are
fairly common nationwide but also have little history of success. The blocking
and the blacklists can backfire, creating greater public awareness in a
petition –and thus making it easier to convince people to sign.
I expect a similar outcome here.