Claudia McKinney: paid-by-the-hour signature gatherer in Washington state.
Ostensibly, Claudia is the kind of person, Sen. Ellen Corbett’s (D-San Leandro)
SB 168 is meant to
support here in California. A fair judge of human nature, Sen. Corbett believes
that the current "payment per signature" system in California (and most states)
incentivizes the submission of fraudulent signings. The claim is one of those
that makes sense, but is not backed up by national data.

by Secretary of State Debra Bowen and a number of unions, SB 168 sits on
Governor Brown’s desk awaiting his signature. Please Governor Brown, don’t sign
it. Or at least before you do, call up Washington’s Secretary of State, Sam
Reed, and your old buddy, Joe Trippi.

Just four months ago in Olympia, Washington,
McKinney, was convicted of "felony initiative fraud" and
ordered to serve 160 hours of community service and pay fines. Last fall,
McKinney – paid by the hour – was getting signatures for an income tax proposition,
which Washingtonians turned down at the ballot box in November.  After submitting her signature sheets,
elections officials quickly noticed that hundreds of signings were in the same
pen, in the same style. Investigations by Secretary Reed’s office and the
Washington State Patrol confirmed that McKinney had, in fact, submitted over
300 fraudulent signatures.

The irony should not be lost: in a dozen years of
paid-by-signature collecting in Washington state (includes over 12 million
signatures), the first fraud conviction is given to a paid-by-the-hour
employee. But why would an "hourly" like McKinney send in hundreds of bad
signatures? According to the SB 168’s supporters there would be no "incentive"
to gather them.

Turns out that McKinney was a member of SEIU (she
was let go following this), and though not paid by the signature, she had other
motivations. Investigating the case, Detective J.W. Kirk of the Washington
State Patrol revealed the substance of
conversations he had with SEIU attorney Judith Krebs: "Krebs stated the union members were paid for ‘lost time,’
meals and mileage for the time spent gathering signatures. Krebs clarified ‘lost
time’ as time away from their regular job spent doing union business, and union
members are paid for that time from an established SEIU fund. Krebs also
stressed this arrangement differs from paid signature gatherers who are paid
for each signature obtained. Krebs stated that SEIU gave each signature
gatherer a goal to meet, but regardless of how many signatures were obtained,
each member would have been paid for their ‘lost time.’" 

What the McKinney case demonstrates is
that there are only two types of groups that can afford "volunteer" or even
paid-by-the-hour signature gatherers – unions, and the wealthy. Maybe this is
why SEIU is supporting a restrictive signature gathering measure before the
Washington State Legislature, and why unions like the California Labor
Federation and California Professional Firefighters are backing SB 168.

Hung out to dry by the measure are the less
well-funded civic organizations the ballot proposition process was meant to champion.
Citizens in Charge president, Paul Jacobs, recently quoted from
a letter sent by Democratic strategist (and Brown’s chum) Joe Trippi to State
Legislators, which nicely sums up the bill’s probable impact: "eliminating the pay-per signature model would remove the
incentive to work efficiently and hard – and thus would significantly drive up
the cost. This won’t deter well-financed special interests, but it very well
could shut the door on genuine, grassroots citizen movements." 

Of course paid signature gatherers
annoy us all in our local supermarket parking lots, and we acknowledge that most
are probably doing this just for the cash. But this is a "civic burden"
Californians should bear in order to keep our ballots accessible to both rich
and "poor" – organized and disorganized – alike. On this measure about
signatures, Governor Brown, I ask that you leave yours off the  "Approved" line.