Legislation to prohibit payment for each signature in the collection of signatures for qualifying a state or local initiative, referendum or recall for the ballot was approved by the California State Legislature on Wednesday.
SB 660, Prohibiting Pay-Per-Signature Incentives, authored by State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), will help to eliminate the corrosive practice of paying per-signature bounties to professional signature gatherers who work for partisan organizations that seek to manipulate the state’s electoral process.
“In recent decades,” said Newman, “California’s Initiative, referendum and recall – important tools of direct democracy that were intended by their framers as a means for ‘the little guy’ to achieve direct, reformist actions – too often have been co-opted by the very moneyed interests they were meant to offset. Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Wyoming have adopted similar legislation. California should do the same – our democracy and governance will be better for this reform.”
Surveys show that voters don’t want to eliminate recall, but would like to make qualifying a recall election more difficult. In the past several decades a small number of specialized firms with expertise in signature gathering have come to dominate this process. One of their principal tactics is the deployment of well-trained, professional signature gatherers. Typically, these signature gatherers are paid on a per-signature or commission basis, also known as a bounty, at a rate determined by the market, which may vary widely, from $2 to $20 per signature. Because bounty-paid signature gatherers optimize their yield based on how rapidly they secure signatures from voters, they routinely use misleading information and outright falsehoods to induce as many voters as possible to sign in the minimum amount of time.
The determining factor for getting a measure on the ballot too often has less to do with merit and more to do with proponents’ available cash and willingness to deceive.
The measure would not prohibit payment for signature gathering, as long as payment is not based on the number of signatures obtained. Signature gatherers still could be paid an hourly wage or salary.