California Gov. Brown Honored for Protecting Petition Rights
LAKE RIDGE, VA) - Today, Citizens in Charge Foundation, a national voter rights group focused on the ballot initiative and referendum process, presented California Gov. Jerry Brown with the August 2011 John Lilburne Award for protecting Californians’ right to petition by vetoing Senate Bill 168, which would have prohibited petition drives from paying petition circulators based on their productivity.
“Governor Brown put the people of California ahead of his own party’s legislators by vetoing Senate Bill 168 and protecting initiative rights,” said Citizens in Charge Foundation President Paul Jacob. “Brown recognized that real reform makes the initiative more open and accessible; it doesn’t seek to make it impossible to put a measure on the ballot.”.”
In vetoing SB 168, Gov. Brown called the legislation a “dramatic change to a long established democratic process in California.” He argued in his veto message that it “wasn’t very practical” to make “productivity goals a crime” and that doing so would “drive up the cost of circulating ballot measures, thereby further favoring the wealthiest interests.”
Supporters of SB 168 argued that banning productivity pay was necessary to prevent petition fraud, with Secretary of State Debra Bowen citing 33 convictions for petition fraud between 1994 and 2010. However, a Truth in Governance report released earlier this month by Citizens in Charge Foundation, which examined documents from Sec. Bowen’s office, found that more than 20 percent of the cited convictions were unrelated to initiative, referendum and recall petitions. The report also found that convictions for petition fraud have dropped 85 percent since 2000.
“Any fraud is too much fraud,” continued Jacob. “But this bill was all about blocking use of the initiative and referendum process by citizens, not combating fraud. It would have doubled the cost of petitioning an issue onto the ballot.”
A 2010 investigative report released by Citizens in Charge Foundation found that reports of petition fraud tend to be wildly exaggerated throughout the nation. In striking down or enjoining productivity pay bans in six different states, federal courts have noted that there is no evidence that such bans effect on any petition fraud that might be occurring.
“Similar laws have been struck down as a violation of First Amendment rights in five states,” Jacob noted. “Governor Brown protected the right to petition, and saved the state a whopping legal bill to boot.”
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was awarded the John Lilburne Award in November of 2009 in part for his veto of Senate Bill 34, which was nearly identical to Senate Bill 168. In his veto message then-Governor Schwarzenegger also noted that banning productivity pay would make it harder for grassroots groups to use the initiative process.
“Now that governors on both sides of the political aisle have said ‘NO’ to banning productivity pay for petition circulators, it’s time for the legislature to put the idea to rest and focus on real reforms that give Californians better access to their ballot,” added Jacob. “California’s initiative process needs reforms that make the ballot easier for average citizens to access, not harder. Expanding the petition period from its current 150 days to a full year would go a long way toward allowing campaigns to use volunteers. “
A poll commissioned in the summer of 2010 by the Citizens in Charge and Citizens in Charge Foundation found that California voters favor having a statewide initiative process by a roughly three-to-one margin.
Each month, Citizens in Charge Foundation presents the John Lilburne Award to a citizen, group of citizens or organization doing the most to protect and defend the First Amendment petition rights of Americans. John Lilburne was a 17th Century English pamphleteer, political activist, and champion of individual rights who advocated constitutional government and pioneered the use of petitioning and referenda for redress against government power and abuse. For a complete list of past Lilburne Award winners please click here.
ABOUT CITIZENS IN CHARGE FOUNDATION:
Citizens in Charge Foundation is the only national transpartisan voter rights group dedicated to protecting and expanding the ballot initiative and referendum process without regard to partisanship and politics. We believe good government starts with the voter. For more information visit us at: www.CitizensInChargeFoundation.org.