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Santa Monica Senator’s Petition Disclosure Bill Passes Committee  

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

April 7, 2017 -- A bill written and introduced by Santa Monica State Sen. Ben Allen that would require initiative petition signature gatherers to disclose their top funders was approved by one committee this week and has been sent to another for further review.

The Senate's Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee unanimously voted in favor of the legislation known as the Petition Disclosure Bill (SB 651) on Wednesday.

The Appropriations Committee is scheduled to look at the bill April 17.

This bill would require petitions for State and local ballot measures to include a list of the top three financial backers when at least $50,000 has been paid. Allen introduced the legislation in February.

“Every election season, voters are bombarded with requests to sign initiative petitions by paid signature gatherers who aren't required to disclose or even know who's paying for the initiatives they've been hired to qualify," Allen said in a statement in February.

He continued, "SB 651 will make sure voters know who's behind the initiatives they're being asked to help put on the ballot."

The bill is sponsored by the nonprofit California Clean Money Campaign. Several other groups are listed as supporters on the State Senate’s bill analysis page. There was no organized opposition as of Friday morning.

Trent Lange, president of the California Clean Money Campaign, says that SB 651 will bring power back to the people, which he says is why the initiative process was created more than a century ago.

“Unfortunately, special interests now often abuse the very process that was meant to limit their power by spending millions to qualify deceptive initiatives,” Lange said. “Voters deserve to know who they are before being asked to sign."

The California Clean Money Campaign is also backing a State Assembly measure that would make funding statements on campaign advertisements more visible.

Known as the California Disclose Act (AB 14), that bill was co-authored by Allen.

Who exactly is funding signature gathering campaigns has long been an issue in both State and local politics, especially when the measure proposed for the ballot is a controversial one.

The debate came up in 2014 when two national aviation groups funded a signature gathering to place a measure on the ballot that would have radically changed the City Council’s ability to oversee land use at the Santa Monica Airport (“Signed Petitions for Santa Monica Airport Initiative Expected to be Submitted Monday,” June 9, 2014).

Many people alleged that the signature gatherers acted less than honestly to get people to sign the petition, telling residents that the measure's purpose was to prevent development when in fact it was to assure that the airport could not be closed or even altered without great difficulty.

This alleged deception was included in a lawsuit filed to keep the measure off the ballot (“Santa Monica Airport Foes File Second Lawsuit,” August 19, 2014).

The court put the lawsuit on hold until after the election, and voters rejected the measure a few months later, making the suit no longer necessary.

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