Democrats battle for ballot initiative reform

July 25, 2011

One hundred years after California adopted the ballot initiative process, legislation to reform it is steadily making its way through the state Legislature. Reform proponents hope they have a new opportunity to change the process with Gov. Jerry Brown, after previous efforts were vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. [CaliforniaWatch]

A bill that would ban signature gatherers from getting paid per signature is waiting on Brown’s desk. Another bill, which would have paid signature gatherers wear a badge to distinguish them from volunteers, passed the state Senate on a party-line vote and was slightly amended in the Assembly, California Watch said.

During the fight against Ernie Dalidio’s proposed 131-acre development on his land in the county bordering the city of San Luis Obispo, opponents paid some name takers for each signature they were able to get. Signature gatherers were given scripts with suggestions on how to talk opponents and proponents of the project into signing the forms because it was a way to have their voices heard.

In 2010, after four years of anonymity, Thomas and James Copeland were identified as the principals of the LLC that committed 16 campaign violations in their fight against Dalidio’s proposed development and fined $80,000.

And another bill would require that the top financial backers and opponents of ballot measures be disclosed on the ballot pamphlets voters receive. Senate Democrats also passed that bill over Republican opposition, California Watch added.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek, who wrote the badge bill and funding disclosure bill, told California Watch the abuse of the initiative system is one of the biggest problems in California governance.

His bills are “baby steps to getting the general public to realize that the initiative process has been hijacked by moneyed interests on the left and right,” he said. “It’s just transparency.”

Opponents argue the reform effort is a power grab by Democratic legislators who want to make citizen legislating harder, California Watch said.

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SLO Rider said “How about making them wear a gold Star of David and carry papers so we can tell can identify them easily?”

I was think more on the lines of having them wear a Red Bullseye target.

I quit signing petitions or ballot measures because of the way they were abused by Schwarzenegger and.

I used to sign almost anything because, even if I didn’t want it to pass, I still think people should have the right to decide for themselves.

However, I don’t have time to go through each initiative, with a legal dictionary by my side, to look for the “yes-means-no-and-no-means-yes-do-you-want-us-to-hit-you” type of verbage.

So I’ve just opted out of that part of the process.

What petitions did Schwarzenegger circulate? Answer: NONE. You need to understand that ballot measures can be brought by the Legislature with no signatures. If the initiative process is undermined the only measures on the ballot will be from Sacramento. The People will have no control. Refusing to look at petitions is like not voting, for all the same reasons. You have a responsibility to take time to make informed decisions.

I hope it passes and I truly hope it DOES make a referendum more difficult. While you may not trust the legislature, trusting the voting public has sure worked swell. They’re the brainiacs who passed all those bond and other feel good funding initiatives that almost bankrupted the state in the first place. Take those historical initiatives out of the picture and the state budget is balanced without all the political turmoil.

@srichson, I must disagree. Those nightmare bonds were almost all unilaterally placed on the ballot by the Legislature, not by public initiative. True, that the public voted for them, however.

An All-out Assault on Public Right to Vote by Democrats

While there are merits in discussing paid signature gathering, there is a full-scale assault on the People’s rights to the initiative process in California. The initiative is designed to be the public’s veto. Attacks on initiatives are an attack on the People’s Right to remain in control of the government they created.


Democrats have failed to extend the temporary Schwarzenegger/Maldonado taxes. Republican offers to approve a tax extension election were made, but only if Democrats allowed a tax cut or pension reform to go on the same ballot. Democrats didn’t want the People to have that vote and refused the offer. They did so with good reason as polls are revealing very strong support for another nulclear-bomb “Prop 13” brewing!

Now Amazon has qualified their initiative to gather signatures and chatter about initiatives like a part-time legislature, splitting the state in two, pension reform, etc. is at an all time high.

Democrats appear deathly afraid of the initiative process at this time. They are moving assertively to take away our right to have the last say in California government by attacking the Initative.

Another attack:

ACA 6: Puts two unelected Dems in charge

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 is another anti-initiative brew simmering in Sacramento. ACA 6 empowers the State Legislative Analyst and Fiscal Director (both unelected Dems) to analyze every initiative petition brought to the Secretary of State. If either one “decides” an initiative has over $5 M of unfunded cost, then EITHER ONE of these persons can void the initiative and it will never be brought to election. We know that $5 M can be stirred up from dust in Sacramento–thus, either one of these two unelected employees could kill just about any initiative the People bring! To add further insult: ACA 6 SPECIFIES THAT BOND INITIATIVES ARE EXEMPT (because bond debt service doesn’t count as a cost??)

Upon reading the legislative status online, it appears ACA 6 may be dead (I’m not versed in Sac town and it’s hard to tell when dead means dead). But the attempt alone makes my point. Democrats are attacking our right to control our own government.

Do Dems really believe in power to the people and the right to vote? It’s getting hard to tell. If they do, and YOU do, we better be VERY CAREFUL about what changes we allow to be made.

When the dominant political party is calling for ‘reform’, we can pretty much guess that it has more to do with keeping them in power and making their control easier and less about ‘reform.’

The problem with groups tightening their grip is that people vote with their feet and slip away.

BTW, the Governor and Legislature seem to want to get their hands on the over $500 million in the UC and Csu squirreled around somewhere…. this strategy has nothing to do with improving our economy… but keeping business as usual… until after the 2012 elections.

The headline: Democrats Battle for Initiative Reform is incorrect. There was no battle. Since the Democrats control the CA State House, the CA State Senate, and the Governor of California there is no battle to pass any law in California, except laws to raise taxes which takes a super majority vote.

I hope the bill to identify the major backers of a proposition works all ways, i.e., I want to know if PG&E is behind an initiative, and also want to know if the Sierra Club is behind an initiative.

Excellent points.

The strangle hold the dems have had in this county because of redistricting that “the nicest legislator” helped set in place and maintain for decades even though she had said more than once she would not run again. Funny how that worked out for the liberals and to the shagrin of the conservatives…

The only argument I can see for not mandating that paid signature gather’s wear a badge would be having fair and unbiased opposition to special interest groups. Many of the initiatives that are brought to the ballot are created from pressure from lobbyists of special interest groups. For example, Sierra Club pressures lawmakers for a measure that creates some new regulation. Sierra Club has many volunteers that they can send out for signatures. The public does not have organized opposition to legislation they may not agree with. Company sponsorship is the only way to achieve this, at least I think so. I believe sticking a badge on a signature collector automatically puts an unfair stigma on them. I run under the belief that just because it is indorsed by the Sierra Club (for example) does not mean I’m automatically going to agree with it.

Unfair stigma to define who you are and why you are doing what you do? Not so. And you would have ‘companies’ creating legislation rather than non partisan (and without hope of monetary or political gain) someone like the Sierra Club? The SC does not have oodles of volunteers, they have some. They largely operate due to the generosity and concern from millions of Americans who feel it is imperative to save some of the planet for YOUR children-instead of destroying it now for short term gain.

How about making them wear a gold Star of David and carry papers so we can tell can identify them easily?

Why is it in this county with its diverse population is the voting ruled by the few coastal communities and the colleges?

Not true at all, where do you get these ideas? Our county Board of Supes swings back and forth politically. The supposed liberal colleges (Cow Poly is, or at least used to be, the most conservative college in the system) probably don’t vote much in local elections and the coastal towns probably vote for representation that works for them. Inland north county has two districts that are not ruled by the coast or colleges, south county has some coastal area but much is inland.

“Opponents argue the reform effort is a power grab by Democratic legislators who want to make citizen legislating harder, California Watch said.” It would seem that instead of making the initiative process harder, the legislation makes the process more transparent and in that vein, more democratic (that’s small d democratic, not large D ) which is a good thing for all of us. Even the playing field; if everyone has to follow the same rules then it is more fair and the advantage of those with deep pockets should be minimized. Why is it that when any Democratic politician attempts to make it easier to vote, makes it more fair for initiatives to be processed, it is assumed by those on the right that it is an attempt to help out Democrats? Would you say the same thing is true when Republicans make it harder to vote, attempt to restrict who can run for office, restrict who can put up an initiative, attempt to take over the vote counting that it benefits Republicans? Look at what has happened in the past ten to twelve years before you answer that, google can be your friend.

Good post. It’s mind boggling that anyone can think that taking the money out of politics can be a bad thing. This levels the playing field and there is absolutely nothing wrong with making it more difficult for either side to buy votes.

Personally I’m always turned off by those guys standing outside of the markets that push us to sign something. In many cases they don’t even understand whatever it might be that they’re trying to make us sign. In some cases I’ve had them feel out where I stand (lib or con) so they can use that to talk me into signing.

No one is talking about buying votes, and the guys standing outside of the markets with a petition will still be doing that but they will be volunteers, and not people paid by the number of signatures they collect.


Actually, they will now just be paid by the hour instead of paid per signature. If they don’t collect enough signatures they will be fired. Very capitalistic in reality.