Senate Bill 660, authored by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) would specifically prohibit a person from paying money or providing any other thing of value based on the number of signatures obtained on a state or local initiative, referendum, or recall petition. Penalties would be severe, with civil penalties costing signature collectors $50 for each signature gathered under the by-signature pay rate or $25,000, whichever one is more. It also instructs the Attorney General to get involved in any violations by bringing civil action.
Senator Newman, who was ousted in a recall election in 2018 over his support for a gasoline tax before narrowly winning his seat back last year, wrote SB 660 in response to many recent petition drives implementing such a pay structure, which he believes leads to inflated supporter signature numbers and bringing an undue number of petitions, recall or otherwise, to the ballot. Combined with the also recently passed-by-committee SB 663, which would provide an elected official who is the subject of a recall election the names and addresses of every voter who signed the petition to “make sure that they “understood the recall petition they may have signed”, Senator Newman is aiming to make recall elections harder to bring about in the future.
“Most elected people don’t think much about the prospect of being recalled,” said Senator Newman of his pair of bills recently. “Every time another one happens, there’s general agreement, ‘That’s not what people had in mind when they created this process.’ But once it’s over, we move on. I think it’s appropriate that we revisit these institutions and make sure they are still working the way they were originally intended.”
However, opposition against SB 660 has also been strong since the bill was introduced in February. Many voter groups, such as the League of Woman Voters and many minority organizations have come out against the bill, noting that the per-signature pay structure is needed for petitions, especially in more localized places and for referendum petitions.
“SB 660 would hurt so many organizations,” explained Ramon Vasquez, a petition consultant who has advised on petition signature gathering in Latino and Mexican-American neighborhoods in Southern California. “They’re trying to make it seem like some sort of great evil, but this sort of pay structure really makes sense. It’s like getting paid on commission or by performance….”