Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Tuesday, December 7, 1999

The Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts accused special interest groups of "gross misuse of the initiative process." TEAM Executive Director James St. George, who was active in the demise of the tax cut last cycle, said paid gatherers don't "know or care" about tax policy in Massachusetts, that it's just a way to "make money."

"It perverts the notion of the initiative process as a way for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard," he said. "It's essentially buying policy and ignoring the middle man, the legislator."

It doesn't get any better than this!

Doesn't that pathetic clown, Jimmy St. George, realize what a buffoon -- a transparent hypocrite -- he's demonstrating himself to be with such stupid statements? Has he no shame at all, no pride whatsoever?

Jimmy and his union bosses at the Massachusetts Teachers Association ought to know what perverting the process is really all about. They wrote the book on it.

What "special interest" group holds government education by the throat, squeezing the life out of it; holds the children hostage while destroying their futures just to satisfy its limitless greed?

It sure isn't "ordinary citizens"!

Imagine the audacity of "buying policy and ignoring the middle man, the legislator"? What Jimmy doesn't want to mention is, the teachers union already has bought and paid for the middle man; he's pretty much a wholly-owned subsidiary.

We simply went around their "middle man." Jimmy and his cohorts don't like that at all.

But they never have been very big on democracy.

The last time around, the teachers union threw $2 million of its members' dues at us to keep our petition off the ballot and away from the voters. Now he's whining because our side countered them to insure they couldn't replay their big-money game.

Teachers across the state were the biggest losers the last time around: they paid their dues to kill their tax cut! One day they will thank us; some already have.

Jimmy and his union bosses don't appreciate that our signature total this time is "insurmountable." They'd rather kick democracy in the butt again, stomp it into the ground -- "for the children," you know. Ah, but this year its members "want to be home for the holidays."

Unlike two years ago?

Stick with "insurmountable." Nobody's buying the sudden compassion for your members and your high-priced mercenaries.

All together now, one, two, three ... pooooooor Jimmy.

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford

State House News Service
Monday, December 6, 1999

Paid Signature Gatherers Play Larger Role
in '00 Ballot Box Race

By Elisabeth J. Beardsley

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 6, 1999 ... National Voter Outreach CEO Rick Arnold styles himself a modern-day political mercenary.

For a fee, his Nevada-based company fields armies of professional signature gatherers to put initiative petitions on election ballots in 24 states, including Massachusetts. With a $100,000 retainer raised by Gov. Paul Cellucci, the company worked with traditional volunteers to gather twice as many signatures as is needed for Cellucci's income tax rollback petition to advance.

A libertarian, Arnold says he wouldn't vote for most of his clients' initiatives, but advocacy and ideology are not part of his mission.

"We're mercenaries," he said. "My mission is to get them on the ballot so people at least have a chance to have a say."

While they may be at odds with traditional grass roots activists, paid signature gatherers are now a fixture on the Massachusetts initiative petition front. Many campaigns this year enlisted paid workers to hit the streets and malls in search of signatures on behalf of questions that roll back the income tax, reform the state's drug laws, and grant Internet providers access to cable lines.

Some activists decry the practice as special interests buying access to the ballot. But petition organizers say it's necessary as "insurance" due mostly to a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling that banned extraneous marks on petition sheets.

To date, one thing is clear: the campaigns that bought signature gatherers are getting what they paid for. All nine active petition drives were ready for last week's filing deadline, with several campaigns submitting more than 100,000 signatures when only 57,1000 were required. At least five of those campaigns used some combination of paid and volunteer efforts.

Secretary of State William Galvin reported receiving 800,000 signatures. Activists estimated they collected one million, inundating the office with 750,000 pieces of paper. Both attributed the deluge to the SJC ruling. Campaigns reported near-universally that they only allowed one signature per page for fear of disqualifying doodles, coffee spots or -- some feared -- saboteurs.

Cellucci campaign director Rob Gray said paid workers gathered 47,000 of the 150,000 signatures collected. In the end, volunteers led by Citizens for Limited Taxation produced 80,000 certified signatures. That was more than enough to meet the 57,100 hurdle, even with potential challenges before the state Ballot Law Commission, Gray said.

But Gray added that the paid cushion protected against a repeat of '98, when the same tax cut petition was picked off by challenges to a tiny number of signatures. "You're crazy if you don't do it (hire gatherers) now, because of the SJC ruling," Gray said. "We did it just to be safe."

The strategy doesn't sit well with everyone. The Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts accused special interest groups of "gross misuse of the initiative process." TEAM Executive Director James St. George, who was active in the demise of the tax cut last cycle, said paid gatherers don't "know or care" about tax policy in Massachusetts, that it's just a way to "make money."

"It perverts the notion of the initiative process as a way for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard," he said. "It's essentially buying policy and ignoring the middle man, the legislator."

Signature-related challenges must be filed with the Ballot Law Commission by Dec. 31, but neither TEAM nor the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which helped quash the '98 initiative, plan to appeal. Both organizations say the signature numbers are insurmountable, the process is time-consuming and expensive, and their members want to be home for the holidays.


The rate per certifiable John Hancock on the income tax rollback campaign ranged from 75 cents to $1, Arnold said. During the signature season, a core team of 8-10 NVO staffers in Carson City, Nevada oversees company operations nationwide, contracting with 30 on-site managers for the fieldwork. The managers recruit campaigners through ads in area media.

A 40-minute training session covers the rules of the particular state and the basics of the issue involved. Street-level operatives leave armed with fact sheets and talking points. Arnold said the "very emphatic" drill this year in Massachusetts was mark-free petitions.

The most experienced paid signature gatherers who roam the nation in pursuit of the hottest initiatives can pile up as many as 250 signatures a day, Arnold said. Working five or six days straight, the average paid gatherer harvests upwards of 1,000 signatures per week. During the Cellucci campaign, the NVO crew brought in over 2,000 signatures per day, he said.

By contrast, Arnold said a locally hired "trainee" typically brings in 400-600 signatures per week and the average volunteer compiles around 40 for the entire cycle. He added that this year's income tax cut required less handholding because CLT runs a sophisticated volunteer operation. NVO piled up 47,000 signatures as "insurance" for the CLT crew, he said.

"The odds against someone doing this are so tremendous," Arnold said. "We're helping them get over the first huge immediate hurdle."

Backers of the Internet access petition, one of this year's most hotly contested questions, say the "David versus Goliath" nature of the campaign demanded a professional effort. Coalition for Consumer Choice spokesman Stephen Allen said the campaign hired a Brookline company called Spoon Works for an undisclosed sum.

"You want to go out and do it right," Allen said. "They have the infrastructure and the organizational message to be able to assure that you will get the signatures on a timely basis, and that you will get them in the right distributions to qualify."

Veteran ballot crusader Thomas Kiley, who spearheaded a campaign to reform the state's drug laws, said he's used paid gatherers "sparingly" in the past, in keeping with the Massachusetts mindset, although he noted it's "pretty common" elsewhere. This year, Kiley hired California-based Progressive Campaigns, which helped round up more than 76,000 certified signatures.

"You get a sustained effort," Kiley said. "One petition with a clear focus, using people who are committed to that effort, in fact leads to greater voter information."

Progressive Campaigns President Angelo Paparella said his troops' work cost Kiley's campaign in excess of $200,000, with signatures worth about a buck apiece. The company employs 25 full-time people, plus thousands of independent contractors nationwide.

The bulk of Progressive's work is signature gathering, but the company also provides other services. For instance, it checks signatures for validity, tabulates the numbers from different geographic areas, processes correspondence and picks up certified signatures from town clerks. "We take care of all of that so they don't have to worry about it at all," Paparella said.

Professional gatherers say the hardest aspects of the job are fielding the barrage of questions from potential signatories and staying out of sparring matches. National Petition Management President Lee Albright said his people know their issues, and are warned to avoid debates.

The California-based company secured a spot on this state's '98 ballot for a question slashing the unearned income tax rate. Depending on the issue's difficulty and available workforce -- very tight these days, Albright noted -- pay ranges between $1 and $1.50 per signature.

"The paid signature gatherers are not hired as public relations staff to promote an issue," Albright said. "They are hired to present an issue to registered electors in the state and allow them an opportunity to sign the petition so it will be placed on the ballot."

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