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California Labor Federation Urges Gov. Brown to Reform Broken Initiative Process

CONTACT: Steve Smith (510) 326-4644 

SB 1094 Would Require Some Grassroots Support for Ballot Measures

SACRAMENTO – With a whopping 17 statewide measures on the ballot this November, it’s clearer than ever that California’s initiative process is broken as wealthy funders bankroll ballot measures to advance their own agendas without any real grassroots support.

As the New York Times reported this week, California voters are going to be inundated with close to $100 million in advertising for the glut of measures appearing on November’s ballot.

A bill on Gov. Brown’s desk offers meaningful reform to California’s ballot initiative process by requiring that a measure would need at least 5 percent of its signatures to come from volunteers in order to qualify. SB 1094, authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez, ensures that every measure placed on the ballot is supported by citizen activists, not just billionaire funders.

“California’s proud tradition of direct democracy is at risk as billionaires and corporate special interests game the system to push their own agendas,” said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski. “By requiring that some signatures for ballot measures must be gathered by volunteers, SB 1094 safeguards the initiative process from being perverted by wealthy special interests whose only interest is advancing their own causes, often to the detriment of Californians.”

Since 2006, well over $100 million has been spent on gathering signatures for statewide propositions in California. Petition circulators are paid up to $7 for each signature, volunteers and grassroots support are often nowhere to be found, and many circulators openly mislead potential signers. The use of paid signature gatherers has led to an explosion of measures qualifying for the election, cluttering the ballot and making it difficult for voters to make informed decisions.

SB 1094 requires that 5 percent of all signatures submitted to qualify statewide ballot measures be gathered by volunteer or activist circulators. Paid circulators may still be used, but ballot measures will only qualify if at least 5 percent of all valid signatures collected were submitted by those who were not paid solely for their signature gathering efforts. This reform will help certify that a measure truly enjoys significant grassroots support. Also, by reducing the incentive for fraud and deception generated by compensating all circulators a fixed amount per signature, the 5% threshold will help protect the integrity of the signature gathering process.

“Gov. Brown has the opportunity to enact meaningful reform by signing SB 1094,” Pulaski said. “It’s time to give the initiative process back to the people, just as former Gov. Hiram Johnson intended.”


The California Labor Federation is made up of more than 1,200 AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions, representing 2.1 million union members in manufacturing, retail, construction, hospitality, public sector, health care, entertainment and other industries

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