and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


December 16, 2002

A quick analysis of Sen. Rosenberg's bills
to destroy the Initiative Petition process
By Barbara Anderson

Note:  We will not be over-analyzing or looking for ways to improve Sen. Rosenberg's bills.  We want to kill them, period.

The bills do not yet have numbers. They are listed below verbatim by title. Full texts are available on the CLT web site's "Save Democracy Project."

1.  To Improve Voter Participation in Masachusetts (sic).

This creates an "Electoral Reform Commission" to "improve voter participation" and "ensure fair and democratic elections." The legislation does not specifically mention the initiative petition process. However, the Commission seems to have a broad mandate to come up with legislation concerning "elections."

It is made up of representatives of each legislative branch as well as members of organizations that have traditionally hated the Initiative Petition process and/or assist their own lobbying efforts by kissing up to the Legislature's hatred of the process: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the League of Women Voters, the Mass. AFL-CIO, etc. as well as liberal groups who want to get more people to register even if they have no idea, for any number of reasons, of what they are voting on.

Groups that actually support the initiative process, be they conservative, liberal, libertarian, good government, animal rights, environmentalist, etc., are not represented on the list. This is no accident.

2.  Expanding Financial Reporting Requirements and Information Available for Voters Regarding Ballot Initiatives.

This takes control of the regulations on initiative petitions away from the Attorney General and Secretary of State's offices and gives it to a Commission made up of the Secretary of State or his designee, the Attorney General or his designee, and three persons appointed by the Governor. The Commission will draft ballot titles and summaries.

We note here that our experience with several Attorneys General has been mostly positive regarding the AG's role in approving proposed initiatives, and our relationship with two Secretaries of State has been very positive. We have no complaints with the present system. Regulatory changes have always been made after consultation with groups from across the political spectrum that actually do petitioning and have actually improved the process in the past few years.

AG's and Secretaries of State, who are elected statewide, recognize the political value of supporting the rights of the people to create their own laws and constitutional amendments. A Commission is accountable to no one.

There will be another Commission, much the same as this one, except it includes a designee from -- the Massachusetts Municipal Association! Its job will be to draft a 100-word fiscal impact statement for the ballot question. I guess they need that many words to list all the state and local services that will be "devastated" by any tax cut or limit. Note that there is no requirement for a statement on the fiscal impact of NOT doing it.

Much of this bill covers reporting requirements, especially for paid petitioners: companies and paid individuals that do petitioning can only do one ballot question at a time, they must carry identification, and sign a sworn oath that the signatures were signed in their presence. We have determined that no bill has been filed to require the same intense identification and reporting for people who collect signatures for politicians to get on the ballot.

Another part of this bill seems impossible to implement but I mention it anyhow because it would be the law. Ballot committees for or against a ballot question would have to list all contributors with their employer and occupation. (The present law just says you have to ask, but if they do not respond you don't have to hire a private investigator to find out.)

The Secretary of State must publish the latest contribution information in its voter information book, even though many contributions don't arrive until after the book is published and mailed to all registered voters during the summer before the campaign. (?) The Secretary of State must also publish a chart showing the percentages of all contributions in various denominations.

All contributions made to a ballot question committee in excess of $2,500 within 45 days of the elections must be reported to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance within 24 hours of receipt. And no, none of this applies to candidates -- only to us outsiders.

3.  Since Massachusetts citizens have a constitutional right to petition, any major change in the process requires a constitutional amendment. This amendment is called "Promoting the Representative Character of Ballot Questions."

The date for submitting a petition is changed from the 1st Wednesday in August to the 1st Wednesday in June, and it goes not go to the Attorney General (the current process) but to the new Ballot Question and Summary Statement Commission, which must pass it on to the Secretary of State "not earlier than the third Wednesday of July."

This could presumably give us an extra six weeks to petition if the Secretary gets the petitions to us within two weeks, as he has in the past with the 1st Wednesday of September deadline; they will still be due the first Wednesday in December. However, the number of signatures required goes from three percent of the vote cast for governor in the preceding gubernatorial election to three percent of the number of registered voters during that preceding election (for a statute, two and a half percent for a constitutional amendment). Within that requirement, petitioners must get two percent of the number of registered voters in each Congressional District (for a statute, one and a half percent for a constitutional amendment).

So if there are 4 million registered voters in the commonwealth, petitioners will need to collect 120,000 certified signatures, roughly twice as many as we needed in the tax rollback campaign. The number also is increased for the second phase of a statute petition drive the following spring.

There is no reason to change the constitution to "promote the representative character of ballot questions." The "representative character" comes from the people, not legislators, voting on the issue in the end. Our message is simple: leave the initiative process alone. We already know that most legislators hate it; nothing they propose will improve it. Their goal is to destroy it.

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