One of the sleaziest bills vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger over the weekend was a law written by the California State Legislature to quietly but decisively wipe out the citizen ballot-initiative movement in California.
Under the false guise of "reform", the bill was a blatant effort by legislators, working on behalf of huge special interests including Big Pharma, Big Labor and Big Business, to stop environmental groups, anti-tax groups and others from gathering the 450,000 to 700,000 signatures required to place an initiative, referendum or recall on the statewide ballot.
(It would have applied to city measures, too, making it all but impossible, for example, to place a measure on the L.A. ballot to slash the Los Angeles City Council's stunning $178,789 salaries in half).
It's embarrassing to see so many Los Angeles-area politicians, including
Paul Krekorian, Mike Feuer, Karen Bass and John Perez, trying to stop
citizen ballot measures and fibbing so obviously about it being "reform."
Here's how the sleaze was going to work:
Under Senate Bill 34, nobody gathering signatures could be paid based on the number of signatures they gathered, as they are now paid. That would become a crime carrying a huge fine.
The proposed law was waaaay popular with Sacramento legislators who want the pesky California public to stop putting stuff on the ballot. The legislature wants only the folks who give them loads and loads of campaign cash -- like Big Pharma, Big Labor and Big Business -- to be able to put stuff on the ballot.
So the California Legislature lied about what it was really up to, peddling the law as an "anti-bounty hunter" law aimed at discouraging the faking of signatures for profit.
In truth, faking of signatures is, and has been, a very minor problem in California. Very minor.
The real corruption in the ballot measure process is that very rich special interest groups use teams of lawyers to write up pages and pages of fine print, loopholes and legal doozies hidden deep in their ballot measures. California voters would not approve many of these special-interest ballot measures if they understood what the unintelligible fine print said.
Let's see the California State Legislature make a law against that.
The real point of this tricky bill by Senator Ellen Corbett was to make it much tougher for little guys, activists and good-government groups to launch and complete signature-gathering drives.
It would have forced all groups to pay signature-gatherers by the day or hour, a scheme that immediately wipes out the incentive for signature-gatherers to approach busy shoppers and stop folks on the sidewalk to get signatures.
Instead, under Senate Bill 34, you could simply sit all day and gather very few signatures. You'd make the same money as somebody who actually tried to gather signatures.
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The Corbett scheme vastly, vastly favors Big Pharma, Big Labor, Big Business and the other giant special interest groups in this way: these groups have, quite literally, tens of millions of dollars to spend on their ballot measures. These groups could very easily double the money they spend on signature-gathering. They could come up with the 450,000 to 700,000 signatures they needed, even if paying by the day or by the hour.
The real citizens could never afford to double what they spend. The real citizens would get shut out of the ballot measure process in California.
And that's what Corbett and other legislators were counting on.
It's particularly humorous (or maybe it's not humorous at all) to see the legislature attempt this sneaky bit of business when efforts are underway on ballot measures that would restrict, punish and otherwise slam the wildly unpopular California State Legislature.