Judge upholds petition pay ban

A federal judge ruled Feb. 11 that the ban on per-signature payments to initiative and referendum petitioners, passed by the voters as Measure 26 in the 2002 general election, was needed “to protect the integrity of the electoral process and to restore the public’s confidence in its government.”

As a result of this finding, and a failure to show any adverse impact on initiative campaigns, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken rejected a legal challenge filed by the Oregonians in Action Legal Center and ruled that Measure 26 is constitutional.

“This is a victory for the voters and a victory for the initiative process,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt, who was one of the chief petitioners for the measure. “The voters stepped up when Bill Sizemore and others started to corrupt the process by paying bounties for signatures and then disclaiming any responsibility for the abuses that resulted from their payment practices,” said Nesbitt. “This decision affirms the will and wisdom of the voters in banning per-signature payment schemes.”

Measure 26 was crafted, taken to the ballot and won by Oregon’s labor movement, following revelations of widespread signature-gathering fraud, forgery and misrepresentation by signature gatherers who were paid bounties for signatures by Sizemore and other initiative practitioners in the 1998, 2000 and 2002 election cycles.

“Our unions can be proud of what we accomplished with this reform,” said Ken Allen, executive director of Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which provided major support for the campaign. 

Other supporters and contributors included the Oregon Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, Oregon School Employees Association, Oregon Nurses Association and the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters.

“This will clean up and strengthen the initiative process by restoring the accountability that Bill Sizemore was so quick to deny,” said Allen. “From now on, paid initiative petitioners will be directly accountable to the sponsors of their initiatives. This will stop the process of using free-lance mercenaries who are accountable to no one and all too willing to lie and cheat to turn a quick buck for signatures.”

Bill Sizemore’s use of paid petitioners was the impetus for Measure 26, but it was Sizemore’s successors who tried to overturn the will of the voters in federal court.

Oregonians in Action, now circulating an initiative to limit land use, zoning and environmental protections for property owners, filed the legal challenge, which was supported by the Taxpayers Association of Oregon and Citizens for a Sound Economy. The challengers were joined by representatives of the paid petitioning industry, William Arno of Arno Political Consultants and Tracy Taylor of Taylor Petition Management.

In defense of Measure 26, the Oregon AFL-CIO intervened as a defendant with Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, bolstered by affidavits and evidence gathered by the Voter Education Project and Democracy Resources, a firm which helped qualify Measure 26 for the ballot without paying by the signature.

The Oregon AFL-CIO was represented by Margaret Olney of the Smith, Diamond and Olney law firm.

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