by Max Brantley
I wrote yesterday about the effort backed by Arkansas's duopoly casinos at Southland and Oaklawn, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and others to cripple the referendum process by, among others, severely limiting signature gathering by paid canvassers.
Paul Spencer has written an e-mail to supporters of Regnat Populus about the group's objections to the legislation. His group has been working on a petition to improve the state ethics law. The vested interests hate that, too.
His detailed objections follow on the jump.
They are not the only issues that contribute to a potential legal challenge of this law if it passes the House as it has the Senate. The Arkansas Constitution raises questions about placing new hurdles on the referendum process as well.
Details aside, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the casinos, their high-dollar attorneys and the business lobby generally don't want the people to have ready access to the ballot to change their laws.
UPDATE: An opponent of the bill tells me it was pulled down after being introduced in House committee this morning. Some "changes" are contemplated.
SIDE NOTE: David Couch, a lawyer who's worked on initiative campaigns, testified against the bill today. He has noted, among others, that the review process worked. No flawed petitions reached the ballot. And he also noted, significantly, that the law is aimed at statewide ballot measures, but wouldn't affect, for example, the Walton-financed campaign that ultimately legalized package alcohol sales in Benton County. Couch said some of the same paid canvassers worked on that campaign that worked on some statewide petition campaigns. Laws with stiff penalties already exist to punish fraud in the petition process, he said.
FROM PAUL SPENCER:
We have sent earlier notices about the problems with SB 821 (Suppression of Citizen Initiated Acts and Referenda) noting our general dismay with this bill. The bill was passed in the Senate last week with sadly only one NAY vote. We can only assume they did not fully appreciate how this bill will materially harm Citizen Initiated Legislation. SB 821 will now be going to the House very soon. Now is the time to contact your Representatives to bring this issue to their attention and insist that they represent citizens' interests over special interests and to protect the right of citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to petition.
Thus we have spelled out in detail the specific problems with SB 821 and how this legislation will materially suppress the Initiative and Referenda Process.
Problems with SB 821.
1. (Section 3) Requirement of paid canvassers to register with Secretary of State (SoS) and electronic registration is disallowed.
2. (Section 18) Disallows electronic transmission of blank petitions to other parts of the state during a Ballot Initiative Campaign. Mind you, there is a 15 county geographic distribution requirement.
3. Disallows paid canvassers that do not have a permanent physical address.
4. (Section 13) Prohibition on soliciting sigs after turn in while waiting for the Secretary of State to verify sigs (“cure period”). This is a crucial “make-or-break” time during the Citizen Initiated legislative process. This is an up to 30 day prohibition on signatures which could stymie any and all Citizen Initiated Legislation (CIL) except those very well-funded by outside groups.
5. (Section 15) Requirement to have an additional REDUNDANT statement identifying the paid canvassers by name and registration # (which is already on the petition). Currently, petitions are sorted by county. This will require them to also be sorted by canvasser within that county.
6. (Section 21) Disallows payment per signature. Requirement to pay hourly will cost exponentially more and will exclude small grassroots organizations from CIL, allowing only those acts funded with large amounts of money to viably participate.
Affront to First Amendment Speech and Petition Rights
1. Disability Clause-Canvasser can fill in info. other than signature for disabled persons.
a. Excludes the rights of functionally illiterate citizens to participate in the CIL process (tantamount to “literacy tests”).
2. General requirement of registering with the Government to exercise 1st amendment right to petition. What next: requirement to “register” with the Government to assemble, conduct political speech, etc? America has traditionally granted great latitude in the area of protection of speech (Westboro Baptist Church etc.). Shouldn’t the protections afforded to those who disrupt soldier’s funerals with hate speech also extend to those who see to participate in CIL?
Dangerous Vagueness of Terms
1. . Means by which “valid” signature is determined.
a. What does “legible" and “material defect” mean? These, amongst other terms, are not defined in SB 821 and are inherently subjective. These terms allow anyone with a political motive to invalidate an initiative by disallowing numerous signatures with this vague and subjective terminology as a basis.
2. The Preamble conflates INVALID signatures (signatory’s registration cannot be verified by address) with FRAUDULENT signatures (those copied out of a phone book, Mickey Mouse, signatory is deceased, etc), by insinuating that 44% to 69% of the previous year’s signatures were FRAUDULENT. When dealing with a scale of 100,000 signatures, it is logistically impossible to have zero INVALID signatures. This is why there is a verification process that excludes all invalid and fraudulent signatures that works quite well with the SoS. In fact, none of the aforementioned measures in the Preamble made it to the ballot, thus validating the efficacy of the safeguards in place with the current system.
1. . Disturbing “State of Emergency” Clause
a. This assumption is based on the belief that 44-69% of sigs were FRAUDULENT instead of INVALID and therefore asserts that the public well-being, safety and peace is compromised. This clause would make SB 821 take effect immediately and "coincidentally" apply to the ongoing Regnat Populus Initiative which would ban direct corporate contributions to the legislators.
2. It is a disturbing Orwellian precedent for a special interest (Oaklawn and Southland Racetrack) to undermine the democratic process ITSELF in order to protect its own interests by the MEANS of the legislature at the EXPENSE of the people.