There is an open secret regarding Arizona’s initiative process, one known by political insiders, ignored by the media and accepted by every group looking to buy their way onto the ballot box. It is that committees that run ballot initiatives hire felons and fraudsters to collect signatures to qualify propositions for the ballot.
This statement is factually true and supported by evidence, yet is immediately denounced by liberal opponents and the media as a cynical attempt to thwart access to the ballot.
It is why when initiative reform measures are proposed such as Senate Bill 1451, no time is spent debating the actual provisions of the bill designed to crack down on the abuse. They fear this debate because it will expose the true intentions of their opposition. Instead, the howls of “voter suppression” get louder to avoid confronting these questions.
How bad is the abuse? In 2018, undeniable evidence was discovered that the “Outlaw Dirty Money” initiative hired several criminals to collect signatures on their behalf. These individuals’ wrap sheets included offenses such as theft, assault, insurance fraud and robbery.
Paid and out of state circulators are legally required to register with the Secretary of State. However, this registration requirement does not prohibit felons or others convicted of identity theft from signing up to collect. There is also no penalty for paid circulators who provide false information on their registration form. Unsurprisingly, many of the paid circulators working for Outlaw Dirty Moneyfalsified information on their circulator registration forms – lying about their permanents addresses and even using fake names.
They would have gotten away with this scheme if not for an extensive review of the petitions by opponents of the measure. When the felons and fraudsters were discovered and challenged in court, 15 of the paid circulators working for the measure ignored the issued subpoenas and simply refused to show up in court.
This wasn’t the only initiative that employed shady or illegal practices.
In the case of Proposition 127, the committee’s own campaign manager admitted in court that most of their signatures were likely invalid. Of the over 240,000 invalid signatures they submitted, over 20,000 of them were submitted by circulators with felony records.
It is for these reasons that Senator Vince Leach introduced Senate Bill 1451, to address these abuses of our initiative system. SB1451 includes two significant reforms:
- Prohibits felons and criminals convicted of fraud and identity theft from registering as paid circulators. Right now, there is no prohibition for these individuals to register as paid circulators.
- Makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for individuals to knowingly omit or falsify information on their circulator registration form. Candidates, elected officials and lobbyists file registration forms and financial disclosures under threat of perjury. Paid circulators should be punished just like anyone else who files falsified information with the Secretary of State.
Yet one would never know just how necessary and reasonable these reforms are over the cries from opponents claiming this will end the initiative process.
The reality is this: groups looking to buy their way onto the ballot box have no desire to police their own people, they are okay with fraud in the initiative process, and they don’t believe there should be consequences when people are caught red handed committing fraud.
But outside of the echo-chamber of the state capitol, the average Arizonan disagrees. Over 85 percent of Arizonans polled supported the exact type of anti-fraud provisions included in SB1451 – including prohibiting felons from collecting their personal information.
Voters know this is wrong. Most lawmakers know this is wrong. The passage of SB 1451 is long overdue.