Petitioners on the UCSB campus this week allegedly attempted to dupe students and other potential petition signatories by misrepresenting ballot initiative information on their petitions.
According to Steven Attewell, a UCSB graduate student who originally contacted the Independent about the possible fraud, he was approached on Wednesday by a petitioner who asked him to sign a measure supporting “cancer research for kids.” When he agreed to sign, he explained, the petitioner explained that he would “need to sign four times.” “The comment about signing four times raised a red flag, because I’m familiar with the structure of ballot petitions, so I paused before signing and looked at the other initiatives,” Attewell explained in an email. “What they do not tell you is that the three pages after the ballot initiative on cancer hospitals are different ballot initiatives.” In a later interview, Attewell elaborated. “The second [initiative] is one that bans eminent domain, the third bans rent control and things like that, the fourth one is: to apportion California’s electoral votes by congressional district.”
In Attewell’s experience, “all the papers [were] held together with a rubber band on a clipboard.” The only way for him to see what each initiative supported, he said, was to take the papers individually off the clipboard. “It seems like: if you don’t ask they won’t say anything about the other initiatives.” Attewell said that when he informed the petitioner that it was wrong to mislead students into singing measures that they may or may not agree with, the petitioner reportedly didn’t say anything and moved on to the next person.
Attewell said that he later found out that the petitioners were affiliated with Arno Political Consultants (APC), a “conservative politicians consult group.” “This particular group has a history of having ethical problems pop up,” reported Attewell.
Upon being contacted, however, APC President Michael Arno said that thought the petition workers may have been working on causes that APC was also working on, the workers themselves were not necessarily hired directly by his firm. “It wouldn’t be necessarily correct to think of them as our employees,” he said. Arno said that the APC was investigating whether the allegedly deceptive signature gatherer was, in fact, affiliated with the company. He also noted that the APC is currently seeking signatures on three of the four items Attewell mentions. (The fourth, imminent domain abolishment, Arno said, was beign pursued by another firm, which could not be contacted by press time.)
Those contacted by the APC are paid on a per-signature basis. Arno characterized incidents like this one as relatively rare, as people who work as signature gatherers often have done so for long periods of time-sometimes as long as 20 years-and accusations of such behavior can end a person’s career in this field. Being convicted of such a misdeed-a violation of California Election code-can result in misdemeanor charges. Arno also added that he and his firm are “very opposed to somebody doing something like that” and that he supported an investigation into whether laws have actually been broken. “In a way, this is good in that if somebody did do something wrong and gets caught, they won’t be doing it again,” he said.