The GOP spin machine uses false fears about animal rights activists to reheat his patron Senator Dan Lederman's proposal to ban paid petition circulators. What's the real game here? Weakening Democrats and democracy.
Our State pioneered the initiative and referendum process. South Dakota was the first state to adopt initiative and referendum on a statewide level, and did so in 1898, setting an example for the rest of the country. But when we did so, it was about a personal, street level democracy. The system didn’t envision people collecting signatures for a profit. Ballot measures (and for running for office) should be about the ideals of Democracy. Not about which special interest group has deep pockets to pay circulators.
It’s time for paid signature collectors to go. And it would be a great step by the incoming legislature to make it happen [Pat Powers, "Animal Rights Groups Looking at State Ballot Measures. It’s Time to End Paid Petition Circulators," Dakota War College, 2014.12.22].
(Bonus points if you snicker at anti-nanny-state Powers reverently capitalizing State.)
Powers pretends to be a friend of democracy. He really fears it, because he knows the South Dakota Democratic Party's most effective tool against his party's agenda in the last two election cycles has been direct democracy, initiative and referendum. Democrats used the referendum to kill bad Republican legislation on education and economic development in 2012. Democrats used the initiative to raise the minimum wage in 2014. Powers and his Republican friends need to weaken that potent Democratic tool any way they can; banning paid circulators is one way to hamstring ballot measure organizers.
Powers conceals his real target by not mentioning any of those successful ballot measures. He focuses on unpopular measures that have made the ballot but gone down in flames under the pencils of the voters. Ballot measures that get killed do not somehow corrupt "the ideals of Democracy" (more ironic capitalization!); they affirm democracy. They affirm that voters can make up their own minds. If Powers sees something wrong there, he only reveals his own lack of faith in the demos.
If Powers were really worried about the corruption of democracy by big money, he'd be railing against the money that comes after the petitions, the unlimited money that corporations can use to promote their candidates and ballot measures through advertising. But when Rick Weiland called for campaign finance reform, Powers responded with nothing but specious topic-changing and ridicule.
In 2007, the South Dakota Legislature banned payment per signature and non-resident circulators with House Bill 1156. Our Democratic friend Nick Nemec supported this bill, as did most Dems in the 2007 Legislature. But notice that legislators did not prohibit themselves from paying per signature, only those dastardly ballot measure folks who would challenge legislators by helping the demos exercise their own direct legislative authority.
Powers also fails to notice that legislators probably went as far as they could with 2007 HB 1156 in limiting paid petition circulation. In its 1988 Meyer v. Grant ruling, the United States Supreme Court unanimously declared that paying petition circulators is First Amendment speech (again, the analogy to Citizens United beckons). The Ninth Circuit 2006 ruling in Prete v. Bradbury allowed limited limits like our no-pay-per-signature law, but Meyer still blocks a full ban on paying petition circulators.
Powers and Lederman are worried about Democrats, not democracy. I don't like paid circulators, either, but banning them is about giving us fewer chances to exercise our right to initiative and refer legislation. Thanks to the First Amendment, the Supreme Court, and the GOP's own embrace of the idea that money equals speech, the proposal will go nowhere.
p.s.: Recall that last July, SDGOP éminence grise Joel Rosenthal poo-pooed Lederman's proposal, saying that paid petitioneering creates jobs. Rosenthal, the classical conservative, said we don't need regulation, just transparency, like big buttons on every paid circulator declaring, "I'm being paid to get your signature!"
pp.s. [11:11 CST]: An eager reader reminds me of this 2009 South Dakota Magazine profile of Father Robert Haire, an Aberdeen priest who advocated for the initiative and referendum in 1891 as a bulwark against plutocracy:
These men make the laws to suit themselves — are a law to themselves. The people seldom get any law passed they want....
Of course, the entire plutocracy, given over to fleecing the values that labor produces, are afraid of the people.... Such fellows will jump on any proposition with both feet when it is proposed to give the law-making power into the hands of the electors.... [T]he people are capable of feeling for, giving form to, and finally decreeing their own laws [Father Robert Haire, Dakota Ruralist, 1891, quoted in Patrick Gallagher, "Faith in the Voters," South Dakota Magazine, originally published Sep/Oct 2009, revised and republished online 2014].
I wonder: would Father Haire see plutocracy afoot in paid circulators or in efforts to ban them?