Sunday, March 23, 2003

Out-of-towners recruited for Gallegos recall bid [North Coast Journal]

Out-of-towners recruited for Gallegos recall bid [North Coast Journal]

Petitioners getting a whopping $8 per signature
by Hank Sims, North Coast Journal

The campaign practices of the Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos were again called into question this week after it was learned that out-of-town petitioners were getting paid a whopping $8 per signature in a last-minute effort to qualify the recall for the ballot.

After learning from the Journal on Monday that out-of-towners were being recruited to gather signatures, county elections chief Lindsey McWilliams notified the California Secretary of State’s office, which enforces most election laws. The law requires that signature gatherers be registered to vote in the county in which they solicit signatures.

"If there’s anecdotal support that people from out of the area are [involved], that’s something that should be forwarded to the Secretary of State," he said. "They can sort it out."

This is the second complaint related to the Gallegos recall effort that McWilliams has forwarded to state election officials. Earlier this year, Shelter Cove resident Jim Ferguson wrote to the county Elections Office, alleging that pro-recall petitions were being "posted" at local businesses for anyone to sign, a violation of elections law. McWilliams notified the Secretary of State’s office, which has not yet weighed in on the claim.

Richard Salzman, coordinator of the pro-Gallegos Alliance for Ethical Business, said that the exceptionally high $8 per signature rate being paid to gatherers — most causes pay closer to $1 — shows that recall proponents are "desperate."

MTC Associates, the Arcata-based consulting firm that is managing the recall campaign, hired professional signature-gathering company US Petitions to conduct the recent drive. MTC Associates owner Rick Brazeau said that the goal was to gather around 1,500 additional signatures between Saturday and Wednesday, the campaign’s deadline. US Petitions also worked on the recall campaign earlier this summer.

"We were so close that we just really, really wanted to put the full-court press on it," Brazeau said.

A message left on US Petitions’ answering machine last weekend asked for recruits to come to the county to help in the drive. The message, which seemed to be addressed to employees gathering signatures on different projects in the state of Washington, was left by company manager Brian Schrier.

"We have a new issue going on in California," the message said. "It is a temporary issue — we only have until Tuesday to do this — but it pays $8 a signature. It’s a recall for the district attorney of Humboldt County, Paul Gallegos. If you’re interested in doing this job, please contact me personally. Please only contact me if you are very serious about this job and you have a way to get here, and you understand that it’s only until Tuesday."

The message did not mention that signature gatherers were required to be registered to vote in Humboldt County. Visiting citizens may immediately register themselves as local voters by giving their motel as an address, apparently even if they only intend to stay a few days.

According to McWilliams, that could mean that even if US Petitions has re-registered all its workers in the county, they still may have violated the intent, if not the literal interpretation, of the law.

Schrier said on Monday that his signature gatherers, which he put at 17 individuals, were all registered Humboldt County voters, though he said he didn’t know if all of them were registered here a week ago. Schrier, who has a San Diego cell phone number, said that he registered to vote in Humboldt County during the summer, but re-registered himself last week just to be certain.

"We just want to go by the book on this thing," Schrier said.

Those leading the drive to recall Gallegos need to gather 11,138 valid signatures to put a recall on the ballot. All petitions to recall Gallegos were due to be turned into the county elections office by 5 p.m. Wednesday. At press time late Tuesday, it was not known how many signatures recall proponents had gathered.

If the signature drive proves successful, it is expected that the question of whether to recall the district attorney will come before Humboldt voters in coming months — although it will not under any circumstances be on the ballot for next month’s local elections.

Antoinette Erwin, who was gathering signatures in front of Safeway in McKinleyville Monday morning, said she was the only full-time local resident currently working on the US Petitions drive. She said that most of the other gatherers have come from Washington and Alaska.

One of Erwin’s colleagues, stationed outside the McKinleyville K-Mart, said that he was a Humboldt County voter, though he first named McKinleyville and then Eureka as his city of residence. He declined to give his name.

Erwin — who said she wasn’t in it for the money — was also gathering signatures for a petition to repeal the recent increase in vehicle licensing fees, which she was not being paid for. The gatherer at K-Mart put up several posters around his table, soliciting help in repealing the "car tax." No mention was made of the Gallegos recall petition on his posters.

According to the Voter Education Project, a nonprofit group critical of the signature gathering industry, the vehicle license fee petition was probably being used as a "stopper" — a petition that’s "easy to pitch and popular."

"`Mercs’ [mercenary signature gatherers] use them to draw people to their clipboards in the hope of getting their signatures on the other petitions they are carrying," the project’s Web site states, adding that "mercs" sometimes simply throw the "stopper" in the trash when they finish the job.

Salzman, who worked on Gallegos’ political campaign, wondered who was putting up the money for the petitions — which would presumably cost $12,000, plus administrative costs, if all 1,500 signatures were gathered.

That question may not be answered until January. The recall committee is required to submit its third quarter financial statements later this month, but they will cover only income and expenditures from July through September. In its last statement, the committee showed a June cash balance of $18,000, but it has since had other expenses, including a direct-mail drive.

Brazeau said that he was not aware of any large donations recently received by the committee.