In response to recent reports that initiative backers—mostly of conservative ballot measures—are hiring out-of-state signature companies to run in-state campaigns, State Senator and independent gubernatorial candidate Ben Westlund has come out swinging.
Westlund, who is himself employing signature gatherers in order to get on the November ballot, announced late last week that he would push for a law that would levy mandatory penalties for petitioners who break election law, and would extend those penalties to sponsors and treasurers of initiative campaigns.
And to keep the process localized, Westlund says he would set up a "reciprocal system of election laws" with other states violations in one state would be punishable in another. Plus, he would require that signature gatherers be Oregon residents.
Since the passage of Measure 26, which outlawed paying gatherers by the signature, the petition process in Oregon has become one of the strictest in the country. Companies that do business in other states are forced to change how they pay their gatherers. That's the idea, anyway.
The problem, according to election watchdogs, is that the state isn't doing enough to enforce the Measure 26 restrictions.
"We may have more signature gatherers coming in from out of state [and not obeying the law], now that they know this law isn't being enforced," says Patty Wentz of Our Oregon, one of the lead proponents of Measure 26.
But Brian Platt—who's under investigation by the Oregon elections office and the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) for violating the wage law—says the law has made the signature-gathering process far more difficult. Platt says he started working for campaigns before there were restrictions on paying by the hour; when he set up his own business last year, he didn't realize he'd need to keep comprehensive payroll records. When three of his former employees complained to the state late last year about their pay ("approached and coached" by Our Oregon, Platt says), he didn't have many records to refute their claims. His payroll records—the ones he still has—are handwritten on lined paper.
He used to hire anyone off the street, he told the Mercury. "But now, with all this scrutiny by the secretary of state and BOLI, it's impossible to hire indiscriminately."
For the record, Platt says he obeyed election and wage laws, but said, "I should have had more foresight to keep these records in case someone wanted to look at them."