No ‘pay to play’

Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent veto of Senate Bill 168—a bill that would have required paid signature gatherers for initiatives and referenda in the state to be paid by the hour or the day, rather than by the signature—was welcomed by the professional political class, but not by those of us who prefer our grassroots politics to come from a real grassroots place.

In the last several decades, legislating from the ballot box—and using the initiative process to do so—has become a big business. It allows special interests who can’t persuade lawmakers to sponsor and pass their designer laws to avoid the legislative process and instead plunk down enough money for political marketing and services firms to get it on the ballot. This law was a move to get the initiative and referendum process back to a populist tool and not a professional business.

What’s more, paid signature gatherers would be less likely to engage in disingenuous explanations of their petitions if they could be certain that telling the truth about an initiative or referendum wouldn’t affect their paycheck at the end of the day.

The initiative and referendum process needs some reform. S.B. 168 would have been a good start, and we encourage the Legislature to revisit this law and the governor to sign it next session. The process should belong to the people; not “pay to play” professional politicos.