Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Petition Fraud (Again) Gets a Peek

Do not expect much to come of it, but the Joint Committee on Election Laws will hold a hearing on the many cases of fraud by the paid petition gatherers for the 2008 anti-same-sex-marriage initiative. The hearing date is October 18th.

Enough complaints have bubbled up to committee chairs Senator Edward Augustus Jr. and Representative Anthony Petruccelli to prompt the hearing. They both support same-sex marriage.

Note: If you want to keep tabs on the fraud effort and check to see whether someone put your name on such a petition without telling you, click over to Know Thy Neighbor.

We expect that there will be enough signatures, even after the hearing and disqualifications. The number (under 66,000) is pretty low. Nonetheless, folks should be aware of the tactics used by the paid-per-signature gatherers and the fact that the Vote On Marriage people need to use professionals for what they call a people's petition.

Articles on the hearing appear in both the Globe and the Herald. The former has much beefier content.

The Attorney General's office has gotten over a dozen complaints. None would justify prosecution to date. You would have to behave pretty egregiously to face charges.

A typical complaint is that the gatherer use bait and switch. They have clipboards with several petitions. They ask people to sign an initiative to allow supermarket sales of beer and wine. They cover up the top of the anti-same-sex marriage one and trick people into signing it instead or also.

Some of the gatherers seem to have the ethics of itinerant magazine salesman. They are paid commissions and will do virtually anything to get their cut.

The Massachusetts Food Association is sponsoring the beer-and-wine petition. President Christopher P. Flynn said his group had also received complaints.

The Massachusetts Family Institute hired Arno Political Consultants to gather signatures. While similar complaints occur wherever such techniques are in use, MFI President Kris Mineau claims problems are rare.

Because individual signatures would be subject to challenge and because out-of-state funds are helping finance this effort, it is extremely unlikely that either the hearing or the challenges will have much effect.

The campaign director for MassEquality, Marty Rouse, laments the assaults on democracy anyway. "Our opponents promised a citizen-driven, grass-roots campaign," he told the Globe. "Instead we find the biggest far-right group in the nation raising money to pay signature gatherers who have come from out of state."

That's not a crime, just hypocrisy.

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