Going beyond the banning of paid-per-signature

Rep. Sherry Appleton is at least talking the right talk about her paid-per-signature ban:

The whole issue behind Initiative and Referendum is it belongs to the people. The framers of the State Constitution envisioned citizens who were passionate about issues – either enacting legislation or repealing what the legislature had passed – to go out to the general public and gather signatures. It was not supposed to be an easy process – we do not have direct democracy but a representative democracy.

It was not supposed to be big business, but a heartfelt response to what action or inaction in the legislature.

Instead of just making it harder for folks to buy their way onto the ballot (a goal I’m 100 percent for, by the way), why not make it easier for citizens to use the initiative process? Right now Washington requires the largest petitions in the country for ballot petitions. There is no real reason for this, but it prevents anyone that doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars on hand from launching any sort of grassroots campaign.

Allowing anyone to print out and circulate a petition would do more to hand the initiative process back to citizens than banning paid-per-signature.

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2 Comments

Filed under general thoughts, Good folks, legislation

2 responses to “Going beyond the banning of paid-per-signature

  1. Yes Tim Eyman, Hutchinson and others will love you for lowering their cost of doing business and making it possible for anyone to print petitions from their printer. Realize that making it easier or cheaper for you to print up petitions also make it easier or cheaper for people supporting conservative or right wing issues to also do the same.

    But the issue for progressives isn’t really about how cheap or easy it is to print up petitions. The issue is really about whether they can put together a winning campaign. And the costs of printing up petitions is only a small part of the total cost of running a successful campaign.

    A winning campaign requires getting together a group of dedicated like minded people willing to spend a year or two working to not just get the signatures on an initiative but also to win the ballot vote.

    Winning campaigns in Washington State these days require raising a million dollars or more. Printing petitions costs maybe $5000. If you can’t raise $5000 then you should seriously question whether the initiative is the route you want to go to effect change. Starting an initiative drive and not being successful puts the message out there to legislators and the media that there is not much support for the issue you are advocating. You can actually set your cause back as a result. And you can demoralize and burn out your supporters.

    In fact your first step should be to try to get the state legislature to pass a bill. Too often people view an initiative as an end rather that a means. Too often people’s first response to a problem is – let’s run an initative. It should be one of your last options. A number of years ago citizens supporting a returnable bottle bill in Nebraska, which has a uni-cameral legislature, came within one vote of passing such legislation. Rather than wait and work to get that one vote, they ran an initiatve and lost decisively when the beverage industry swamped them at the ballot. Nebraska still does not have a bottle bill.

    The point here is to first think what it is you want to do and what are your possibilities of success. What is your level of support? How much money can you raise? Who are your opponents? How much money can they raise? How many volunteers do you have? A winning initiative requires a campaign organization, polling, money, volunteers, media and all the rest just like a candidate campaign does. A winning campaign takes a lot more than just the ability to be able to print up petitions from one’s home computer.

    For the record I have been incvolved in many statewide initiative campaigns over the last 25+ years on all levels , from just getting signatures as a volunteer, to serving on the Board of campaign steering committees, being a paid campaign consultant to campaigns, being paid to run campaigns and also starting up from scratch and being the Chairperson overseeing the total initiative campaign. I’ve been involved in both winning and losing campaigns.

  2. Steve, thanks for chiming in. I really respect your opinion, especially when it comes to the initiative process.

    I think, though, that first $5,000 is harder to come by for grassroots campaigns than well funded, Eyman type campaigns where the bulk of the funds come from one person. Also, I would add into that amount the cost of distributing petitions, which becomes very expensive when we’re talking about paid signature gatherers rather than volunteers.

    I’m convinced that the advantage to guys like Eyman in terms of shrinking the minimum size is minor compared to the advantage to everyone else. Because he has the money, he is going to be a force. My desire is to reduce his advantage.

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