Barbara Anderson's Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government failed to
collect enough signatures the old-fashioned way the last time out, in 1998.
"Buying a ballot question"
A Patriot Ledger Editorial
But CLT did "collect enough signatures the old-fashioned way the
last time out, in 1998." Then the teachers union spent two million dollars, five
months in court, and harrassed and intimidated hundreds of voters who'd signed our
petition, and subpoenaed them into Superior Court in Cambridge. In the end, the
Massachusetts Teachers Association's team of five lawyers was able to knock us off the
ballot by a lousy twenty-six signatures.
Here we go again with the chicken-or-the-egg debate. The Patriot Ledger is only
the latest which fails or refuses to see the cause and effect relationship. It's just so
unfair, the Ledger believes, that anyone -- especially a "special interest" my
goodness -- would spend a lot of money on paid petitioners to put a question on the ballot
for the voters to decide, so very unfair. It's a "perversion" of the intent and
of the process!
But apparently it's perfectly fair when a favored special interest like the
teachers union with its unlimited funds spends millions of dollars and months to keep
a question OFF the ballot and out of the reach of voters -- forcing grassroots
proponents of a petition to spend an additional hundred thousand bucks it can ill-afford
and months in court to defend their use of the proper intent and purpose, who'd
"played by the rules" as then understood -- not after the rules have again been
reinterpreted or worse, misinterpreted.
If it wasn't for the special interests spending whatever it takes to kill a
petition before it makes it to the ballot -- a relatively new phenomenon too -- through
challenges before the state Ballot Law Commission then, failing that, in the courts, the
signature hurdle would not have been raised to such an incredibly stupid level:
Entire pages of signatures would not be disqualified, the signers disenfranchised, simply
because a volunteer didn't have a law degree and wrote the name of a town outside the
designated box, or put a number on the page where it was not legally permitted!
As I stated in our January 22nd Update:
"Thanks to those challenges -- also always well-financed by the deep
pockets of special interests -- and the decisions of the state Supreme Judicial Kangaroo
Court (SJKC) that have raised the constitutional hurdle for collecting signatures, the
days of "the framers' original intentions, that it be only a bona fide citizens'
movement" are gone....
"On the tax rollback question, CLT volunteers alone collected more than
enough signatures to qualify under the state constitution - but likely not enough to
discourage another multi-million dollar legal challenge by the teachers union.
"Thanks to the governor and the cushion of additional signatures he
provided this time, we saved both our side and the beleaguered teachers -- who must pay
the union's campaign expenses through their dues -- a whole lot of money, not to mention
months of time.
"Today, paying for signatures to insure that you make it beyond the
challenges also is a very good investment.
"It's the SJKC which has co-opted the framers' original intent. Thanks to
its machinations, any "bona fide citizens' movement" with a well-funded special
interest opponent today needs to raise the money and hire paid petitioners -- just to
satisfy the SJKC's arbitrary burden and insure that a proposed ballot question can dodge
the often frivolous and always expensive challenges."
I stand by my words.
Fortunately, so did the U.S. Supreme Court when a handful of states sought to
"protect the integrity" of the initiative process by prohibiting the payment of
petition circulators. Colorado, Idaho and Nebraska each made it illegal to accept
financial reward for signatures raised. The United States Supreme Court overturned these
laws in the 1988 decision, Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414 (1988). Such a law, the Court ruled
unanimously, restricts freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment: it
restricts access to the most effective fundamental and perhaps economical avenue of
political discourse, direct one-on-one communication.
For more information on the initiative and referendum process in other states, the
attacks upon it from all quarters, and applicable court decisions, go to the Initiative and Referendum Institute:
PS. Barbara's response (submitted as a letter to the editor with the
promise that it would be printed) follows the editorial below.
The Patriot Ledger
Wednesday, January 26, 2000
Our view: Buying a ballot question
To everything there is a price, it seems. We know it takes a lot of
money to run for state office. Now, it turns out, money was the reason some questions will
make it on the ballot next November.
You've seen the signature collectors at the mall and outside the post
office. They seem so sincere. Democracy in action.
Many voters will sign a petition to put a question on the ballot
regardless of their opinion on the issue. It just seems so patriotic to encourage
Maybe voters wouldn't be as willing to sign if they knew the man or
woman holding the petition was being paid and had no stake in the measure at all.
The perversion of the ballot initiative is troubling, especially when
the signatures are being purchased on behalf of special interests who also use their
considerable assets to influence lawmakers individually. The purpose of the initiative
petition is to grant access to those who are not special interests but citizens who want
to make a law or change one. Issues may wind up on the ballot via the signature route
because the Legislature won't listen or the subject is too controversial. Sometimes the
Legislature doesn't listen because the special interests already have gotten to lawmakers.
It takes a minimum of 57,100 signatures of registered voters to have
a question considered. It's a lot, but it's designed that way to ensure there is
widespread support for an issue.
The substantial sums of money paid to gather signatures came to light
on financial record filings required by state law. A New York billionaire, George Soros,
and other out-of-state donors spent $400,000 to put a drug question on the ballot. It aims
to substitute drug treatment for jail time for some drug offenders.
Grace Internet Capital, which owns Internet companies, spent $600,000
on a ballot question that would require cable companies to open their lines to
competitors. And Gov. Paul Cellucci and other Republicans helped pay more than $95,000 to
gather signatures for the question to decrease the income tax to 5 percent. Barbara Anderson's Citizens for Limited Taxation
and Government failed to collect enough signatures the old-fashioned way the last time
out, in 1998.
There's little people can do about what opponents of paid signature
collection call "buying a law." Paid solicitors for charitable organizations are
required to announce themselves, but hired hands in the signature-collecting business are
Being informed and curious can help. When approached next time, ask
the individual if he or she is a volunteer or paid to collect names.
To write a letter to the editor of the Patriot Ledger
go to its "Feedback" page.
Letters to the Editor
The Patriot Ledger
Re: Jan. 26 editorial, "Buying a ballot question"
January 27, 2000
To the Editor:
The Ledger considers the use of paid petitioners a "perversion
of the ballot initiative," but neglects to attack the use of highly-paid lawyers to
challenge the petition signatures after volunteers have spent their weekends collecting
Citizens for Limited Taxation does not use paid petitioners; but we
have learned the hard way that unless we collect many more signatures than required by the
Constitution, the Massachusetts Teachers Union will spend its members' dues to keep the
petition off the ballot (can we call this "buying the demise of a ballot
The point of any ballot question is who gets to vote, not who
collects the signatures. Thanks to Governor Cellucci's paid petitioners, the hard work of
our volunteers won't be in vain, and the voters will have the opportunity to decide the
issue of the income tax rollback.
Citizens for Limited Taxation
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