Smog Over Tacoma Harbor, photo courtesy National Archives and Records Administration / wikicommons

Correction: The original post referred to a “carbon tax” in I-1631. The initiative actually refers to a “pollution fee”, a methodology different from the carbon tax in Initiative 732.

I recently ran into a couple stack petitioners seeking signatures for four initiative petitions, starting with Tim Eyman’s latest $30 car tab effort, and ending with a petition to “stop corporate polluters”. The cognitive dissonance between the two petitions was a sure sign they were paid gatherers. While one was argumentative and making up answers (but honestly admitted he travels all over the country), the other seemed forthright and gave me straight answers to my questions.

It turns out that the firm employing the paid gatherers is Your Choice Petitions, an outfit known for regularly including Eyman petitions in their efficient multiple-petition efforts. The petitioner confirmed the number of the bottom petition as Initiative 1631, the latest state carbon tax pollution fee initiative.

Your Choice was nowhere to be found on the campaign’s PDC filings. However, a $150,000 debt, for “signature gathering”, to AAP Holdings, Inc., was.

Per I-1631 spokesperson Nick Abraham, AAP Holdings was indeed contracted to collect a certain number of paid signatures (an overwhelming portion of the paid signature costs), and the campaign discourages, but has no control over, whether petitioners can carry other petitions which the member organizations in the campaign tend to be ideologically aligned against. However, since the paid petitioners are hired by the contractor, the campaign does not have an easy way to communicate directly with the petitioners to express such wishes. He also stated that this is a common practice by serious initiatives, and that “There are only so many petitioning firms” in the state.

AAP Holdings has also received at least $658,000 from the no-grocery-tax initiative campaign (which is part of the stack the paid gatherers asked me to sign). No campaign with serious money behind it turned up for the Eyman initiative.

Per Abraham, the campaign has 1300 volunteers, who have collected the majority of the signatures turned in so far. He expressed confidence the campaign can reach the signature requirement, but that both the volunteer and paid effort are needed.

On the question of whether going through paid gathering firms helps indirectly finance other initiatives, Abraham argued that campaigns do not achieve economies of scale by doing this, but campaigns are generally not set up to hire petitioners directly, and that the petitioning firms also do no achieve economies of scale, since gatherers are paid by the signature.

Abraham pointed out furthermore that the initiative (See full text) lists public transit as one of the delineated recipients of funding from the carbon tax pollution fee. [Section 4(1)(d)(2)]

I-1631 is an initiative to the People of the State of Washington, with a July 6 deadline for the campaign to deliver the petitions to the Secretary of State.

26 Replies to “Pollution Fee and $30 Car Tabs Using Same Signature Gatherers”

  1. Which one smells worse for democracy, the subject of this picture or the one of this posting? Election law needs to say that this is what volunteers are for. And candidates should be ready and able to publicly shame each other over who had to pay for work they couldn’t find anybody to do for free.

    Mark Dublin

  2. Paid signature gathering needs to be outlawed. It’s too easy for wealthy interests to abuse the petition process.

      1. Simultaneously lower the signature threshold while outlaying paid signature-gathering

      2. It would seem to me thay disallowing of paid signature gatherers would infringe on the petitioner’s first amendment rights. I’m not sure it would survive a court challenge.

      3. I don’t think that’s quite the same thing. asdf2 is probably right that prohibiting paid signature-gatherers is unconstitutional, even before the Citizen’s United decision, which was mostly about campaign contributions. Campaign contributions are on the receiving side of a campaign’s accounts; paid signature-gatherers are on the spending side.

      4. Do you really believe that? Would we have fewer initiative? Certainly. But there is too much bad legislation sneaking through on ingenuous ballot titles and “For” arguments.

        Not to mention that scum like Tim Eyman make a living at it.

  3. Jack: worse than that. It’s Astro Turf.

    Ryan: Awwwwwwwwww!

    asdf2 and Jack: Look at it this way: This case is exactly what the First Amendment is for! With apps, Twitter, and drones, Signer-Shaming will go down in a blaze of hostile #Get Stuffed Signed the World! tweets. Ben Franklin would’ve loved it!

    Jeff, you just looked out the window at a drone disguised as a pigeon. White plop behind him means you just went as viral as all your gatherers. Let them unionize or you’ll wish it was only cows that could fly. #Dumbo re-run.

    MD

  4. There’s a difference between putting initiatives in front of voters and campaigning for the initiative. If there is an initiative I wish to support it seems unfair to make it incumbent on the voter to go out of their way to sign something. In that sense the paid initiative gatherers are providing a service. I’ve never witnessed paid gatherers aggressively panhandling for signatures. Perhaps a secure online system can be developed that is cheap to operate (i.e. cheaper than the current process of signature verification).

    1. My general thoughts as well. I’d like a secure online system as well for those who don’t get so lucky as to find a signature gatherer…

    2. The issue isn’t so much the gatherers themselves, as the fact that it provides an effective way for out-of-state investors to get their initiatives on the ballot by overhwelming the local system. If paid gatherers didn’t exist, they would have to actually send their own volunteers to gather the signatures, and that’s probably so much hassle they wouldn’t bother.

      I can see the argument that having all initiatives in every neighborhood library so that people could sign the ones they want might be better than forcing signature-gatherers to go around. That would be like the idea of automatic voter registration, where the state simply registers everybody who’s eligible unless they opt out. That would arguably be a more democratic way of doing things, rather than forcing people to go through an aribtrary ritual in order to vote.

      1. But then, I don’t want the public to pay for putting hundreds of Eyman initiatives every spring out at every public library for people to sign.

      2. I can see the argument that having all initiatives in every neighborhood library so that people could sign the ones they want

        I think that’s a great idea!

      3. I don’t want the public to pay for putting hundreds of Eyman initiatives every spring out at every public library

        I don’t think it would change the cost/effort of filing an initiative so I don’t know that it would create a flock of new ones. The thing about online is that it could reduce the cost to the state of verifying all the hand written signatures; of which many are bogus. Online also provides a test bed for someday adding online voting (something I don’t see as at all secure currently). Even having to go to a library to use their computer for online “signatures” would be an improvement.

      4. What Mike said 1000 times over.

        Robert Zimmerman was exactly correct when he said: Money doesn’t talk it screams!

        There’s no doubt that free markets are the finest way to make products that people want available at a reasonable price. Planned economies do an awful job that that. But the political sphere is not selling “products”, it’s mostly selling access to power and that is one of the greater crimes people commit.

        Such access casinos should certainly not be protected by the courts.

  5. I-732 made it to the ballot no problem without hiring a signature contractor. They did pay signature gatherers but it was an in house operation and less likely to hire straight up mercenaries. I collected signatures both as a volunteer and a paid gatherer.

    1. Indeed I haven’t found an example of any left-of-center petition campaign paying a firm that was probably going to also be carrying right-of-center petitions in this state, going back to 2008, where the PDC online searches stop. Yes, other campaigns do it, as Mr. Abraham contends, but progressive petitions haven’t done this since 2000, I believe. Google is not helping me find which campaign did this. But I recall that that campaign got roundly rebuked, and decided to cut off ties with the petitioning firm once they were caught.

      Ironically, I was thinking it was the previous I-732, in 2000 (teacher pay increase) that might have done this last. That, or the class-size initiative that year. And that it was in the same stack with a charter schools initiative. My memory could be wrong, which is why I left this detail out of the post.

      What this campaign is doing is legal. They have experts in meeting the letter of the law working with them. Ethical is in the eye of the beholder.

      Arguments can be offered of various ways in which this isn’t helping Eyman’s petition drive, but there are other difficult-to-counter arguments that it does. I think people here know enough economics to delineate some of them.

      But on a deeper level, one can’t help but think that they are trying to get conservative voters to vote for this by having it in the Eyman rent-a-petitioner stacks. Given the resistance by some non-conservative groups to I-732 last year, I have a hard time blaming them for such a subterfuge. That is, until the initiative with the largest carbon footprint also makes the ballot because the combo effort made their signatures cheaper to collect. (And if it didn’t make the signatures cheaper to collect, they would have gone to one of the other petitioning companies willing to carry only I-1631 petitions.) And then, the campaign will realize they undercut their own cause.

      Paying a holding company to in turn contract with the stack petition firms is a shell game. AAP had little experience in running petition drives. But they do provide a shell that keeps the petitioning firms from appearing on the campaign’s PDC filings. I think the 2000 education-related campaign made the mistake of cutting its checks to the establish petitioning firm(s) directly.

      At any rate, the evidence speaks for itself, and people will make their own subjective judgements on ethicality.

      Also, the fact that some I-732 volunteers became paid gatherers might have been something the I-1631 campaign wanted to avoid.

  6. More than once I’ve run into signature gatherers outside grocery stores in Snohomish county seeking signatures to “stop the tax on groceries.” This is a statewide initiative to outlaw Seattle’s sodapop tax. Signature gatherers make it seem it’s a coming tax on grocery food that must be stopped. One of the seekers admitted to being from out of state.

    1. Are you sure the initiative won’t also repeal some state taxes, like the bottled-water tax?

  7. I’m very much a proponent of a Carbon Tax but I will slug the guy in the mouth before I sign a petition held by a gatherer who also has an Eyman petition.

    And since I won’t slug him in the mouth and go to jail as much as I’d like to, I won’t be signing an I-1631 petition.

    I refuse to sign any petition offered by a person with more than one at her or his table. They’re leeches on the body politic.

    1. Then sign one carried by a volunteer, visit the campaign office, or volunteer yourself so that they need fewer paid signatures, and can pull their part of the rug out from under the stack petitioners that much faster.

      Also, spare the petitioner. He is just trying to make a living. The ones in the boardroom who made the decision to quietly work with Eyman, and hoped nobody would notice, are earning a lot more than the guys carrying stacks, and it was their decision to go for the stacking.

      If you want the stack petitioners to stop carrying the carbon tax petitions, arguing with them won’t make a difference. Contacting the campaign and complaining will.

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