Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Thursday, January 27, 2000


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:

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford

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 grass-roots decision-making.

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 not.

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 them.

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 question"?)

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.

Barbara Anderson
Executive Director
Citizens for Limited Taxation

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